You might have heard the word ‘Agile’ thrown around a lot in business over the last couple of years as companies look at new ways of working to adapt to the digital age.

However, the Agile way of working is nothing new and in fact started as a movement in February 2001 after 17 thought leaders met at a Utah event.

In software development, there’s a need to build incrementally, test, learn and iterate. Traditional ‘waterfall’ project management had often hampered this process.

So the creators of Agile took learnings from their work in development to create a new manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: They realised the value of self-organisation, collaboration and motivation
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation: Presenting documents didn’t offer as much value as presenting working software
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: They realised customer requirements can change throughout a project so continuous stakeholder involvement was vital
  • Responding to change over following a plan: Just as requirements could change, it was important to be able to adapt and respond to the changes

Agile isn’t necessarily about doing things quickly. But it does allow you to break a project down into ‘sprints’ and deliver tasks quickly.

Imagine a twelve month project with one deliverable broken down into 24 deliverables instead – each with a two week timeframe.

These smaller timeboxes would be known as ‘sprints.’  It means the team can focus on the tasks they need to complete for each sprint, rather than looking at a huge gantt chart that stretches out into the distance.

Working in an Agile way also massively helps de-risking a project when compared to a waterfall approach. If the aim is to deliver working software in two weeks then the team has to remove all the impediments to get there early in the process.

This avoids building ‘technical debt’ which ends up becoming a huge mountain of work traditionally tacked on to the end of a waterfall project.

Ever wondered why waterfall projects tend to overrun, missing deadlines and going well over budget?

Different frameworks are used within Agile such as Scrum and Kanban.

The frameworks come with their own sets of rules or ceremonies, such as daily ‘stand-ups’ – a meeting where each team member states what they delivered yesterday and what they’ll be doing today.

It’s a great way to see velocity of work and also ensures clear visibility of any project blockers!

What it means for business

Working in small iterative sprints means you have regular re-planning sessions. This allows you to adapt to changes or change direction if necessary.

In a digital age where things can change very quickly this is really crucial. It also allows you to retrospectively assess what worked or what didn’t work within a sprint, so that you can continually improve your team and ways of working.

It does require a different operating model, as traditional project management will make way for Agile project managers and scrum masters.

These roles will form the lynchpin of the Agile team and ensure team members keep to time, attend ceremonies and deliver their tasks.

A nice way to think of it is this … Agile projects fix Quality and Time so that Scope can flex.

Waterfall typically fixes Time and Scope so that Quality is flexed!

To find out more about the tools and processes that could help you become more Agile, have a look at agilemethodology.org.