The need for flexibility in project management is on the rise, and it has been for some time now. Traditional project management (also called Waterfall project management) just can’t cut it in today’s fast-paced world. Waterfall is a rigid, step-by-step approach that delivers value only at the end of the project—sink or swim, succeed or fail, that’s the outcome you’re forced to accept. It doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? Thankfully, there’s a solution, and its name is Agile.
What is Agile?
Agile is a project management framework (not a methodology!) built around short work cycles called iterations (or, sometimes, sprints). Agile was designed to deliver value throughout the duration of a project, rather than just at the end.
In Agile, the product owner—acting as the customer representative—looks at the project backlog and orders it by priority. The most important requirements are developed first, with less necessary or less desirable requirements placed lower on the list.
Any large requirements are broken down into simpler pieces made to fit an iteration in a process called deconstruction. This ensures that the development team isn’t forced to bite off more than they can chew, as well as encourages a detailed review of every requirement before development.
As we will investigate further in this article, Agile works to improve team collaboration, customer satisfaction, project flexibility, and value creation.
Why Switch to Agile?
1. Continuous Improvement
Agile is always looking to improve. At the end of every iteration comes a retrospective, in which the team analyzes their current process and makes suggestions on how to improve it. They discuss what went well, what could have gone better, and what they should try next.
Additionally, teams are encouraged to gain new skills and become cross-functional with one another. An example of this is called pair programming, in which a skill expert and a skill novice pair up and work together on a task related to the skill. The skill novice will learn from the skill expert as they work, thereby improving their own ability.
Each and every decision and process is reviewed in Agile. There is nothing that can’t stand to be inspected and improved, and Agile strives for betterment.
2. Constant Development of Value
As mentioned briefly above, the backlog is prioritized based on what the product owner values most; this prioritized list is the order in which requirements are pulled from the backlog for development. The product owner continuously updates and reprioritizes the requirement list as the project runs in order to adapt to the changing demands of the market.
Agile aims to vastly increase the quality of the products that are developed through frequent testing to spot errors, a just-in-time approach to requirement pulling to keep current with market demands, sprint retrospectives and analysis to improve processes, and short iteration periods to increase flexibility. Additionally, the return-on-investment (ROI) in Agile comes much quicker than in traditional projects, as Agile works to develop the minimum viable product (MVP)—a bare-bones but completely functional version of the product—as soon as possible so that it can be released to the public faster. This allows the project to begin making revenue, even as it is still in development. The product is released, and the team continues to improve it at a fast but steady pace with short, rapid iterations, adding more value and additional functionality with every update.
Because Agile allows for shifting priorities, it also ensures that the development team is only ever-developing exactly what the market wants, so there is no wasted time or money. It is also an especially sustainable process, as it was originally designed for the development of software—a type of product notorious for frequent updates!
3. A Focus on Teamwork and Communication
People come first in Agile. Your team members aren’t tools, they’re experts—and they should be treated as such. In Agile, you trust your team to self-direct and self-organize. You may give them the targets, but they choose how to reach them. After all, your members are the ones developing the product! Your trust will be rewarded—teams who are trusted and empowered to work the way they choose will feel a sense of ownership over the project and work even harder to see it to fruition.
Short, daily sprint meetings are held to keep everyone on the same page. Everyone knows where they are in the project and what they need to do next. Communication is highly valued, which means transparency, openness, and explanation. No more misunderstandings! Agile also makes frequent use of information radiators, clear visuals like graphs or charts that provide easy-to-understand information.
In Agile, you collaborate with everyone: your team, your stakeholders, your clients, and your vendors. Build trust and bonds between them in order to maximize your product’s value.
4. Reduce, Mitigate, and Prevent Risk
Risks are targeted from the start when using Agile, as it encourages frequent testing to spot errors, constant updates of requirement prioritization to develop only what the customer wants, and a focus on adaptability that allows a team to switch priorities at the drop of a hat.
The constant re-prioritization of the project backlog also helps the team avoid scope creep—the steady increase of scope that can happen throughout a project, leading to far much scope to develop in far too little time. In Agile, requirements are constantly being re-evaluated and having their order adjusted on the list, meaning that only the most important requirements are being developed at any given time. The project scope doesn’t become bloated with unnecessary, outdated requirements, and the product is sure to stay packed full of value.
5. Higher Customer Satisfaction
Agile encourages adaptation to changes in the market and client desires, meaning you always remain focussed on developing the features they want the most. Have the priorities of the client shifted as the project continues? That’s perfectly fine! The product owner simply reorders the backlog and the team gets to work on the new priorities at the start of the next sprint.
Delight customers further with frequent product demonstrations, consistent delivery of working value, shortened release periods, and continual implementation of customer feedback. The client is involved in every step of the process, and they are represented by the product owner. Customer input is highly prized and continuously sought after (and then accounted for!) in an Agile product. After all, if the target audience isn’t happy with the direction of the product, why would you bother developing it?
Agile: the Better Management Solution
When it comes down to it, Agile is simply the logical choice to make. The Waterfall system is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, an approach that can’t keep up with the current market demand. It’s time to embrace the fluid nature of development and learn to rise with the tides: it’s time to go Agile.