Short Introduction to Agile
Agile has become the most popular approach to project management in a knowledge work environment. Initially designed to help software development teams in delivering working code more frequently, Agile has been spreading to other areas such as product development, marketing, financial services, architecture, healthcare, insurance, education, etc.
It all started back in 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was created. There was a need for a new approach that can help organizations be more flexible, responsive and adaptive to changes.
Frustrated with how things were, the “founding fathers” of Agile came up with a manifesto based on 12 Agile principles:
#1 Satisfy Customers Through Early & Continuous Delivery
The original formulation of the first of the agile principles says “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”. However, it is perfectly applicable in areas outside of software development.
By applying it, you will increase the agility of your process and respond to changes in a timely fashion. On the other hand, your customers will be happier because they will get the value they are paying for more frequently. In addition, they will be able to provide you with feedback early on so you won’t have to make significant changes later on.
#2 Welcome Changing Requirements Even Late in the Project
Still, if need be, change requests should be most welcome even at late stages of project execution. The original text of the second of the Agile principles states that your team needs to “welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage”.
This is truly important as customer needs may change at any time and if you are truly agile, there shouldn’t be a problem for your team to respond in a timely fashion.
#3 Deliver Value Frequently
Originally, “deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale” the third of the agile project management principles aims to reduce the batch sizes that you use to process work.
This principle became necessary due to the extensive amounts of documentation that were part of the planning process in software development at the end of the 20th century. Logically, by taking it to heart you will reduce the time frame for which you are planning and spend more time actually working on your projects. In other words, your team will be able to plan in a more agile way.
#4 Break the Silos of Your Project
Agile relies on cross-functional teams to make communication easier between the different stakeholders in the project. As the original text states, “business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project”.
If you are not in a software development context, you can easily change the word “developers” to “employees”. The goal is to create a synchronization between the people who create value and those who plan or sell it. This way you can make internal collaboration seamless and improve your process performance.
#5 Build Projects Around Motivated Individuals
The logic behind the fifth of the Agile principles is that by reducing micromanagement and empowering motivated team members projects will be completed faster and with better quality.
Like the original text following the Agile manifesto states, you need to “build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done”.
The second sentence of this principle is especially important. If you don’t trust your team and keep even the tiniest decisions in your company centralized, you will only hinder the engagement of your team. As a result, individuals will never be truly motivated and you won’t get the most of their potential.
#6 The Most Effective Way of Communication is Face-to-face
“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”
In 2001, this principle was spot on. By communicating in person, you reduce the time between asking a question and receiving an answer. However, in the modern work environment where teams are often spread across the globe, it provides a serious limitation.
Thankfully, with the development of technology, you can interpret this Agile principle from face-to-face to “synchronous” or otherwise direct communication. So as long as you have a way to quickly reach your team and discuss work matters without bouncing back and forward emails for days, you are good to go.
#7 Working Software is the Primary Measure of Progress
This principle is pretty straight forward. It doesn’t matter how many working hours you’ve invested in your project, how many bugs you managed to fix, or how many lines of code your team has written.
If the result of your work is not the way your customer expects it to be, you are in trouble.
#8 Maintain a Sustainable Working Pace
The precise formulation of this principle is “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”
Logically, when putting Agile to practice, your goal is to avoid overburden and optimize the way you work so you can deliver frequently to market, and be able to respond to change without requiring personal heroics from your team.
#9 Continuous Excellence Enhances Agility
As stated by the founders of the Agile Manifesto, “continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility”. In a development context, this principle makes a lot of sense because it allows teams to create not just working software but a stable product of high quality.
As a result, changes to the code will be less likely to create a negative impact caused by bugs and malfunctions.
Still, the 9th of the Agile management principles is applicable in every industry. When you maintain operational excellence, you will have less trouble reacting to changes and maintaining agility.
#10 Simplicity is Essential
The original content of this principle can be a bit confusing as it states “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential”. Yet it is very practical.
If you can do something in a simple way, why waste time complicating it? Your customers are not paying for the amount of effort you invest, they are buying a solution to a specific problem that they have. Keep that in mind when implementing Agile and avoid doing something just for the sake of doing it.
#11 Self-organizing Teams Generate Most Value
Once again we come to the realization that when provided with freedom, motivated teams generate the most value for the customer. When discussing this principle, the 17 fathers of Agile stated that “the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams”.
If you have to push your team and “drive them forward” maybe you are not ready for Agile or you need to make some changes to your leading style.
#12 Regularly Reflect and Adjust Your Way of Work to Boost Effectiveness
Finally, we’ve come to the last of the Agile management principles. It is related to evaluating your performance and identifying room for improvement. The long version of the principle states: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”.
By doing this you will be able to continuously experiment and improve your performance. Also, if things don’t go as you’ve planned, you can discuss what went wrong and adjust to get back on track.
There are different Agile methods, but Agile itself is not a methodology or a framework, it is a set of values and principles. This is why, it is extremely flexible and can be applied by different organizations. However, to make a successful transformation, you need to have the necessary foundation. Implementing the 12 Agile principles is precisely how you build it. Good luck!