“Being Agile”… what is it and why it doesn’t mean moving the goalposts every day.
WHAT DOES “AGILE” MEAN?
AGILE methodology is probably something you have come across over the last ten years in some capacity or another, but what does it all mean?
In order to describe a new process or methodology it is always wise to look at what was being done previously.
In the past the main method of working was what was described as the “waterfall model”, it involved a large amount of documentation and very large, concentrated delivery periods. Sound good right? Spend time planning up front, then pass a detailed plan on for implementation and bob’s your uncle – project done.
In theory there was nothing wrong with the plan above, however what happens when 4-months later the project work is delivered and it doesn’t quite come out looking or feeling how the original team envisaged it to. Back to documenting for a month followed by another 4-month delivery period. In the ever changing digital world and with the importance of being current, relevant and “spin on a sixpence” these timelines were simply not feasible. Enter…. AGILE.
What would happen if we broke the work up into smaller chunks and introduced regular tests and checks to make sure the direction we were going in was the right one?
The theory behind the AGILE methodology was initially focussed on application/web development however it can be applied across multiple fields. The definition of AGILE is as follows:
“advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change”
It involves smaller production loops in order to achieve the final goal of the finished product. You could look at it in terms of building a house. The overall goal of building a house is a complex and large task, however if you break it down into manageable chunks of time and aim to have a small part of the house built at the end of every time period you can make sure each room is to the owners liking before you move onto the next part of the house.
Agile changed the way people approached projects. Rather than look at the project as a whole it said “How much time do we have, when do we want to check on our progress and what do we think we can achieve in each chunk of time before we check on how we are doing. The idea of thinking about a project in terms of time rather than deliverables is key to it cutting out the issues with the previous Waterfall system.
TEETHING ISSUES AND THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
If you speak to most people that have adopted the AGILE Methodology whether it be a novelist or an in-house IT department you are likely to hear “Agile just means people change their minds about what they want all the time and we never finish anything”. This is a fair point and can be a teething problem of implementing an Agile methodology, however the issue is likely to not be with the principle but with the application of the theory.
A few tips and tricks for how to avoid this from happening:
– Make sure that all stakeholders are AGILE aware and have bought into the process before approaching a project in a new way. If this is not done they may be misunderstanding the intention of AGILE and assuming that at the end of each work cycle they are required to re-assess the project as a whole rather than test the work done against the original requirements.
– Don’t be afraid to pause a project and re-scope the requirements if you feel the goalposts are changing too often. Perhaps business goals have changed and the original requirement is no longer valid.
– Shorten your delivery cycle time and try to achieve less in a cycle. This might seem an odd choice but often what can happen is that you are trying to achieve too much in too little time and that means the quality is lowering. When planning a cycle halve the amount you are aiming to achieve and check on the work more regular to see if an improvement is made. Ambition is great but being overly ambitious in a work cycle can kill a project!
This all comes from experience of working AGILE environments but there are plenty of books and online tutorials if you wish to learn a bit more about the detail around it all.
A great beginners guide is – Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers … by Roman Pichler.
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