What does it mean to be Agile?
Updated: May 9
What is the Agile methodology?
There are so many buzz words and phrases bandied about by organisations to run their team more efficiently but often they are misinterpreted. One that gets frequently mentioned is the Agile methodology. So what is ‘Agile’? Agile is used for software development where tasks are divided into short phases of work with frequent reassessments done to adjust to the priorities of the customer or the project. Below is an example of an Agile model:
As you can see from the diagram, Agile emphasises building software in small chunks or blocks, which usually last two weeks each. Agile has been successful in software development because advances in technology are happening rapidly so the end product four years on could be completely different to when the project first started. It’s not only people in the software industry using it but teams across different industries are “going Agile”.
So who came up with this methodology? Back in 2001, a group of software leaders gathered at the Snowbird meeting in Utah. They thought of new ways to deliver software faster into the hands of users, so they wrote the Agile Manifesto which has four core values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
How does it differ from more traditional methods?
Traditional methods offer a more linear approach to projects. In other words, the entire project is mapped out from start to finish before any work has even started. Here is a basic outline of the Waterfall model:
As you can see the Waterfall method is driven more by tasks or activities, whereas the Agile method is driven by product features. The Agile method also encourages team members to move between roles but the Waterfall method encourages specialisation of roles.
While Agile allows for more flexibility and changes, not all projects work better using an Agile approach. Some examples of when Agile might not work for your project include the project not being urgent or your team not well-versed in Agile. If your team doesn’t have experience using Agile then it’s probably not a good idea to use it. The Agile method requires constant interaction among all stakeholders – development team, testing unit, management and the customer. If one of these teams is letting the project down, then it will affect the result. In this case, it might be better to stick to a more linear approach.
What are the advantages of the Agile methodology?
Rather than waiting months or even years to see a product, the Agile methodology states that working software is the primary measure of progress. The customer can see what you have been working on and it allows any changes to be made in the early stages. The values and principles that a team has is what makes them Agile. Over time those values and principles might change but that will allow teams to work more efficiently.
Daily stand up
Not as funny as comedic stand up, a daily stand up meeting is where everyone comes together for about 15 minutes to discuss what they have done since the last meeting and what they plan to do before the next meeting while standing up. As one of the Agile principles is that the most effective way of conveying information to a development team is face-to-face, stand up meetings provide a good opportunity for once a day face-to-face conversation.
Talk to users
While the customer is important in traditional methodologies, in Agile the customer is critical. That’s why Agile favours regular face-to-face communication with the users who will need access to the product on a daily basis. If the users are involved and have a say in the software development process, then they will be happier with the end result.
Who is using the Agile methodology?
Companies from Microsoft to IBM are using the Agile methodology but let’s look at a company that hasn’t been around as long – Spotify. The company that has become synonymous with music streaming adopted the Agile approach and has more than 100 million active users globally.
In 2015, a small team at Spotify solved a long-standing problem: how could music listeners find music they really liked in a library of millions of songs? They solved this by using an algorithm that could match people’s music tastes with billions of playlists created by other listeners to deliver a fresh playlist to the user weekly, known now as Discover Weekly.
Discover Weekly was a huge success and resulted in an influx of millions of new users. Using the Agile approach, the Discover Weekly team was able to carry out a series of tests to see what features user liked and didn’t like. Today, Spotify is made up of hundreds of small teams, or what Spotify prefers to refer to as Squads, Tribes and Guilds (but that’s another story altogether).
Why does Anywise use the Agile methodology?
Anywise implements the Agile methodology to ensure effort and focus is maintained and reflective of the client’s priorities. Further benefits have been realised by companies that are used to a more traditional Waterfall approach to work. By changing the work culture to adopt Agile principles, more collaboration between staff happens and people can work more cohesively. Using Agile makes a project’s scope of work well-defined and every person in a team knows what is expected of them. Transparency is key so it is clear what tasks have been completed and what tasks need to be completed in the following sprint cycle.
While it’s not always easy for companies to adopt a new work culture, Anywise have found that by using an Agile methods on a daily basis including stand ups and live dashboards, everyone can see what tasks are prioritised and who is doing what task. There is a plethora of Agile tools available. While some offer more sophistication and transparency, others may be as simple as post-it notes and whiteboard markers. Whichever way you go, the secret is to know when to use which tools.