What is Agile?
Agile is a mindset, culture, and values that allow teams to work efficiently, delivering value to customers in a faster and more qualitative way. Even though Agile uses tools or tactics, it is most and foremost a mindset, a way of thinking and framing things. It’s all about people, their interactions and how to build high-performing teams.
Agile works by breaking projects down into smaller tasks based on user functionality and benefit. Teams then prioritise these tasks, and continuously improve on them through short cycles known as sprints or iterations.
Think of Agile as an extremely long “to do” list. For you to best tackle what needs to be done, you would start by ranking these tasks by order of importance, do them, and then review your progress. Things you would consider in your review would include:
- What could you have done differently?
- What didn’t you get a chance to finish?
- What do you need to do next?
- What did you learn from the process?
Agile values and guiding principles equip you with the ability to make better decisions with increased flexibility. This flexibility is due to visibility because you are working towards a clearly defined goal.
The history of Agile: The Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto is a set of value statements that forms the basis of Agile. Before its creation in 2001 by software developers Dr Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, there was no single universal definition or values — meaning its definition and application across companies was often inconsistent.
The Agile Manifesto can be defined as:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
It’s important to note that while the Agile Manifesto prefers values on the left-hand side over the right-hand-side, it does not disregard the importance of processes, tools, documentation, contracts, and plans.
The principles of Agile
Shortly after the Agile Manifesto was formulated, 12 accompanying principles were established to provide further detail around how to execute the values of Agile:
- Satisfy customers through early and continuous delivery of valuable work.
- Break big work down into smaller tasks that can be completed quickly.
- Recognise that the best work emerges from self-organised teams.
- Provide motivated individuals with the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
- Create processes that promote sustainable efforts.
- Maintain a constant pace for completed work.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in a project.
- Assemble the project team and business owners on a daily basis throughout the project.
- Have the team reflect at regular intervals on how to become more effective, then tuning and adjusting behaviour accordingly.
- Measure progress by the amount of completed work.
- Continually seek excellence.
- Harness change for a competitive advantage.
Simply, the 12 principles of Agile are about determining the right things that need to get done, and then doing them right. By breaking down tasks and prioritising them, teams are able to learn more quickly based on the needs of the market, thus delivering products that are useful, viable, and feasible.
Forms of Agile
Agile is the umbrella term that depicts the set of values and principles that equip teams with the ability to make good decisions in the development of products.
Scrum and Lean Kanban are forms of Agile. Both Scrum and Lean Kanban enable continuous improvement within agile teams because there is clear visibility of what a team is working on, what needs to be done next, and what the measures of success are (also known as ‘the definition of done’).
The question of which form of Agile to utilise isn’t easy. There is no right or wrong answer. Ultimately what your team picks is dependent upon its preference and needs.
Scrum is the most commonly used form of Agile. It’s an iterative work method that is very prescriptive. It has highly defined processes, roles, ceremonies and artefacts. Scrum teams work through an iterative process towards a common goal within a defined timeframe known as a sprint. Characteristics of the Scrum process include having a daily standup, having an iteration or sprint review, and having a sprint retrospective or feedback session.
Lean Kanban is a visual workflow management tool. Like Scrum, Lean Kanban is focused on iterative, continuous improvement and at a high level, follows these four steps:
- Identifying what needs to be done
- Planning what needs to be done
- Doing the work
Kanban is a great way to visualise your work and improve the flow of work. Though it may be easy to confuse Scrum with Kanban due to their similarities, the two are different. Their key differences are around the roles within the team, the delivery dates, and the possibility and timings to make modifications.
|Roles and responsibilities||Each member has a clearly defined role.||No predefined roles.
Team members collaborate where required.
|Due dates and delivery timelines||Delivery is achieved within a specific time frame (known as a sprint).||Products are delivered continuously as determined by the needs of the business.|
|Delegation and prioritisation||Uses a “pull system” where tasks are pulled from a backlog or list of work during each sprint.||Tasks are initiated once previous tasks have been completed.|
|Modifications and changes||Changes during a sprint are discouraged.||Changes can be made midway to encourage continuous improvement.|
|Productivity measurement||Sprints are laid out one after another, and need to be completed before the next one can commence.||Uses “cycle time”, meaning teams measure the time spent on one task or item, from task briefing to the moment it’s ready for delivery.|
Kanban works well when used alongside Scrum or any other form of Agile. Many Scrum teams have adopted some useful Kanban principles, thus adding an extra layer of visibility to their projects. Scrum teams using Kanban as a visual management tool can get work delivered faster and more often.
The benefits of Agile
There are a number of benefits Agile brings to teams including:
- Businesses have better responsiveness to change and faster time to market.
- They’re able to bring products to customers faster.
- Businesses are responsive to customers’ needs and use their feedback to improve the product. This results in better customer retention and Net Promoter Score (NPS).
- Better quality products.
- Improve cost efficiency and productivity for businesses, as teams focus is on high-value tasks.
- Improved team morale, collaboration, and accountability.
- Efficient project management with control of project schedule and visibility of ongoing WIP.
The evolution of Agile
Following Agile’s rise in adoption since the early 2000s, many companies such as Dell, WordPress, and Basecamp have successfully delivered products through Agile — enabling them to deliver work more collaboratively, efficiently, and receive feedback faster.
According to the 2019 report by CollabNet VersionOne, the most cited Agile survey, 97% of respondents have adopted some form of Agile in their teams. The findings also found that the top reasons teams employ Agile include accelerating their software delivery, improving team morale, and reducing project risk.
Though Agile was initially created and adopted within software development teams, its use is no longer limited to software development. In fact, Agile is being employed to all functions of organisations in many different industries.
Agile is a key revolution for successful management – not just “a thing that happens in IT”. It’s now seen as a less radical alternative to the “command-and-control” autocratic style of management. As decisions are determined by customers and the business, Agile promotes autonomy and transparency between cross-functional teams.
Agile supports the notion that organisations are not static, but rather living organisms, that are continuously growing, adapting, and learning with the needs of their customers and the market.
If you want to learn the mindset and principles of Agile, Scrum, Lean and Kanban, become a better leader, build high performance teams, and get productivity take-aways to implement immediately in your job, you can register to our Agile Elevate course here.