The term “Agile” has become a buzzword within many organizations. But, what does it mean to be agile, and how can we implement agility to create more efficient, productive and collaborative teams?
By Sheyinka Harry
In my interactions with leaders across the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, I’ve heard statements like, “Our company is agile” and, “We need our teams to be more agile.” The term “Agile” has become a buzzword within many organizations. But, what does it mean to be agile?
According to Atlassian, agility – from a project management or software development perspective – is an iterative approach that helps teams deliver incremental value to their customers with maximum efficiency and minimal burnout. Agile transformation began as an organizational solution for software teams struggling to produce work efficiently and on time. Today, many industries, including aviation, banking, and manufacturing are recognizing Agile as a way to establish smoother workflows.
According to the 2020 Agile Adoption Statistics and the State of Agile, 71% of companies have adopted Agile, with a steady increase of usage across non-IT functions, including Finance, Human Resources, and Marketing.
The top three reasons organizations gave for adopting Agile were:
- The speed and flexibility required by largely unpredictable and volatile environments
- The need to accelerate product delivery
- The desire for increased team productivity
Elements of an Agile System
Agile is a values-driven system that prioritizes organizational structure and collaboration. The four core values of this methodology emphasize:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
There are 12 principles derived from these values:
- Focus on customer satisfaction.
- Remain flexible in order to accommodate changing requirements wherever they fall.
- Deliver value frequently to customers.
- Communicate regularly within the team and with stakeholders.
- Provide support for team members and trust them to do the work.
- Engage in face-to-face communication as much as possible to avoid misunderstanding.
- Measure progress through value added.
- Maintain a sustainable working pace to prevent burnout.
- Pay continuous attention to technical excellence and good design.
- Keep things simple to minimize wasted effort.
- Create self-organizing teams for better requirements, designs, and architecture.
- Reflect on work practices and adjust often.
Several frameworks, including Scrum, Kanban, and SAFe, can be deployed within an organization to establish agility using these values and principles. While each framework has a distinct approach, all emphasize the team and the customer — key players involved in the process of delivering value. All frameworks call for collaborative cross-functional teams to work at a sustainable pace in order to deliver quality products that meet the demands of their customers.
The organizations I have worked with over the past few years are now reaping the benefits of embracing an agile approach to doing business, including:
- Flexible teams that can quickly respond to changes in the marketplace and apply feedback from customers without derailing many years of planning.
- Greater freedom and space to Fail Forward Fast. Teams are given the opportunity to fail, learn, and move forward with greater efficiency.
Stronger relationships within the team and a greater sense of shared values and practices.
- An effective process for identifying and resolving bottlenecks.
Doing Agile vs. Being Agile
There is a common misconception that you are all set (congrats, you’re now Agile!) once Scrum ceremonies are underway and Agile task forces are established within the organization. You may have identified an Agile framework, formed teams, and scheduled meetings, but that’s just the first step. The foundational values and principles of the Agile methodology should also be employed to meet the needs of the organization.
Take this approach:
- Foster authentic interactions.
- Reform rigid processes and simplify your tools.
- Instill the value of collaboration among the development team and with the customer.
- Create and release tangible working pieces of software or solutions that target your customer’s pain points.
- Create a plan that is flexible and adaptable to change.
Above all, frequently inspect how your teams are working together and how you’re delivering value to your customers. During your inspection, note where you can improve people, processes, and tools, and then put small steps in place to reach your ultimate goal. You are halfway to winning the battle if each person on your team becomes an Agile champion.
Agile is not defined by a set of ceremonies or specific development techniques. Rather, Agile is a values and principles-driven system. Organizations that apply the core tenents of the Agile methodology benefit from tighter feedback cycles, continuous improvement, and most importantly, customer satisfaction. Now that you understand what it means to be Agile, and how it can benefit your organization, you can take the steps to begin your agile transformation and bring new, exciting products to market faster.
About the Author
Sheyinka Harry is the Manager of Agile Transformation at QualityWorks Consulting Group. Over the last five years, she has worked with product development teams across the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean to help streamline and optimize their software delivery process and build products that their users love. She has also worked with enterprise-level teams to define how they go about supporting their delivery teams to ensure their success. Sheyinka has significant experience in the finance and e-commerce space and is passionate about helping organizations achieve their goals through agile transformation.