Accessing Your Agility: When and How to Implement Agile
What does it mean to be ‘agile’?
At a high level, agile project management (agile) is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle. When applied effectively, agile project management helps teams increase speed, improve collaboration, and better respond to market trends.
A great way to understand agile project management is by comparing it to a more well-known approach: waterfall. In the waterfall approach, project-related activities are performed sequentially, with the closing out of one activity leading to the opening of the next until the project is over. As it relates to technology, the waterfall approach usually consists of several phases: analysis, design, implementation, testing, and maintenance. Each of these activities is performed in a linear sequence, with the following activity directly dependent on the success of the one that precedes it.
Agile and waterfall project management are sometimes confused as being opposites, but that’s not exactly true. Rather, agile is the result of taking the waterfall approach and applying it on a smaller scale multiple times throughout the life cycle of a project.
Think about this: If a ship were to set sail for a destination with a specific heading and then not adjust course a single time throughout its journey, well… let’s just say that the ship may never reach its port. Instead, the crew is constantly evaluating their current position and re-adjusting their trajectory accordingly. At its core, this is one of the fundamental principles that agile is founded upon: iterative, incremental improvement. But, in order to achieve this improvement, you have to know when and how to apply concepts.
When to implement agile?
The agile methodology is most valuable for work that’s large in scope and spans a long period of time. With that said, there are two additional factors that you can use to evaluate if agile principles could deliver a higher value product to your client—complexity and volatility.
To evaluate complexity, ask yourself:
- How well is “success” defined within the project? Is there a clear goal, and a clear set of steps to reach that goal? Or is the definition of success more ambiguous?
- Are the problems well defined? Or are they also hard to pin down?
To evaluate volatility, ask yourself:
- Are requirements being re-defined? Are deadlines changing? Are there multiple risks that could impact the return on investment of the project in the long run?
- How aligned are all stakeholders for a project across the organization? Does everyone have their own agenda or are they all tracking against the same vision? Is the value proposition the same across multiple business units or does it change?
As an example, manufacturing a car engine presents low complexity and volatility. There are quantitative variables that define a well-established production process. Problems that could arise are well-known and well-defined. New risk is unlikely.
Universal material numbers, global standards and definitions, standardized labeling and more not only enable innovation but also make your processes more nimble to global disruptions. For example, standardized processes for changing product inputs can help you make a quick pivot if you need to switch supplier locations.
In contrast, creating a concept for a new car model introduces higher complexity and volatility. If the objective is uniqueness and creativity, the standard for measuring success is necessarily subjective. The likelihood of unknown challenges is high, and the process is one of trial and error.
What are some agile principles that I can implement right now?
Here are two key principles found within the Agile Manifesto that deliver value across a wide array of projects.
PRINCIPLE #2: WELCOME CHANGING REQUIREMENTS, EVEN LATE IN DEVELOPMENT. AGILE PROCESSES HARNESS CHANGE FOR THE CUSTOMER’S COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.
When all is said and done, the goal is to deliver value. What good is it to maintain the initial course after realizing that the destination is no longer where you wish to arrive? Embrace change, adapt to new developments in the industry and adjust your trajectory where needed. This is what differentiates unexpectedly great outcomes at the end of a project from the planned return on investment.
PRINCIPLE #12: AT REGULAR INTERVALS, THE TEAM REFLECTS ON HOW TO BECOME MORE EFFECTIVE, THEN TUNES AND ADJUSTS ITS BEHAVIOR ACCORDINGLY.
Transparency is key when it comes to achieving optimal efficiency. Setting time aside to evaluate what is working and what isn’t working is good for any team wishing to improve its outcomes. Prioritizing reflection will highlight problem areas, skill gaps, and other deficiencies within a team. After all, you can only remedy a problem once you have identified it.
Regardless of the project work that you and your team are currently executing, think about how you can apply these two principles and, in the spirit of being agile, implement them and then re-evaluate and improve.
Stay Agile with Collective Insights
We work with clients across multiple industries, leveraging agile methodology to deliver the highest value product possible. It has led to success for us and our clients, and we would love to help you reach that success too. Let’s connect on how we can help you stay agile on your next project. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.