What is agile methodology and how can it help your business?

Sophie Smith

Business Researcher

Agile is more than a buzzword. It helps businesses to deliver their projects quickly and efficiently. Adopting or improving the way you run Agile in your business can make a significant difference to your revenue. Spyrosoft uses Agile frameworks when delivering projects and finds it really helps with client satisfaction.

In this interview, we talk about the basics of Agile methodology with Shane Poole, our lead Agile Consultant.

Can you briefly describe what project management is and why we need it?

Project management is a very broad topic but essentially, it can be defined as the coordination and management of something that needs to be delivered. In the case of Spyrosoft, we project manage software projects and the Project Manager is the central point of responsibility for tracking and reporting. Having a Project Manager helps to streamline your project and ensure each stage is delivered smoothly and on time.

Can you outline the more traditional methods of project management, such as Waterfall?

Traditional project management, often called Waterfall, comprises of controlling gates called stages where different activities take place. These stages are analysis, design, development, test and release. The project is moved through these stages from idea to launch. The gates are important stages of any project, however, in traditional project management, the team members don’t meet, analyse their work, or provide feedback as regularly as they do in Agile run projects, so failures can go unnoticed along the way.

Although many elements of traditional project management are still used, most businesses can see the benefit of getting fast feedback, which is achieved with Agile project management. In waterfall, feedback is slow, so it can take a long time to pick up problems or find out that you aren’t delivering what the client wants.

What is Agile methodology and why do businesses need it?

Agile is a framework that allows fast feedback loops. The waterfall phases I described are used but work is carried out typically in two-week sprints. At the end of the two-week sprint cycle, thorough feedback is given on the work. This means you can fail fast. Admittedly that sounds like a bad thing, but quickly understanding where things aren’t working out or are failing, is a huge benefit. It means businesses can make immediate decisions and change direction.

In many cases, businesses are already working in an Agile way but by becoming fully Agile, they can make further improvements. It allows them to inspect and adapt the work quickly. Working with a third party in an Agile way lets you create a proof of concept, minimum viable product (MVP) or first release by easily expanding your team to get it delivered. They can also split the teams to make the project more effective and there are lots of ways to set up the team and the department to make Agile work.

It’s important to understand that we still need traditional project management. It’s needed for tracking finances, dependencies, and risks. Agile reduces risks by augmenting or complementing traditional methods of running your project.

How should a Managing partner, a Chief Operating Officer, or a Financial Director think about Agile methodology and how would they implement such a strategy?

They should look at it as a way to get something to market quickly. It makes it easier to release an MVP and then get customer feedback. This approach saves time and money as you can make changes to the product quickly. Feedback is key and this allows you to get it rapidly. IT Directors, CTO’s and Heads of IT can also benefit from more focused work and efficiencies in their teams.

What is the effect on people, processes, and organisational structure?

People adopting Agile need to change their mindset. They need to understand the big picture but scale to short and more focused delivery time scales. They also have to adapt to working in a dedicated co located team working collaboratively. The main processes do stay the same and if you can picture it, there’s a sprint cycle layer below running in parallel. The organisational structure stays the same and the agile processes should just slot in seamlessly.

What is SCRUM and why do you do one?

The term scrum comes from rugby. When in a scrum, the team is working together to get a try and to score points. They are all working in the same direction with the same goal.

In our world, this means that we have a framework that can be used to help people, teams and organisations to deliver and create value. They will have a shared and common goal and will work together to meet that agreed goal. Scrum wraps around existing processes and practices or can supersede them where they are no longer necessary. This framework also allows the team to inspect and adapt regularly, meaning they can make improvements to the ways of working on an ongoing basis.

What are the scrum events for?

When working within the Scrum framework, the Sprint event is a container for all other events. Each of these events are designed to allow for regular review (inspect and adapt) and to allow full transparency. The events consist of The Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective. The idea is to hold these events on the same day and at the same time in each Sprint cycle to reduce complexity and should reduce the need for other meetings.

Can you talk a bit about communication, output and plans?

Communication is key to any team but is especially important in a Scrum team, especially during the Scrum Events mentioned above and should ideally include key stakeholders where relevant (e.g. Sprint Review). There is still the need for overall project plans to be in place for business level planning and review and there would be some touch points with the Scrum Team in order to stay aligned.

Where does agile methodology work best and where does it not work?

Agile methodology tends to work very well on very complicated projects that are not well understood - fast feedback loops are very useful so that you can learn quickly as you progress. As mentioned, the fast feedback loops and fast failure is key to the success of Agile. This is just what you need in a very complex project – you can adapt whilst delivering.

It isn’t as useful for projects that you have done before that are well understood and repeatable, you already know how to do this and have data and lessons learned to work from, a blueprint if you like.

Will Agile methodology save money and deliver a project more quickly?

Agile may not save money overall but will reduce wastage. Because you’re failing fast and changing direction on a regular basis, you can avoid costly mistakes. In terms of speed, you may not save time overall, but things of value can be delivered more rapidly, such as an alpha or beta release, or an MVP or basic webpage that will then allow feedback that feeds into future development.

How do I involve my client if needed (or not)?

Your client is the key stakeholder, so they will be involved in every aspect of the project and implementation. This is crucial to the success of the project and no different than a traditional project being run in waterfall.

What are some classic errors and how to avoid them?

Firstly, thinking Agile will fix everything. It’s just another tool in the toolbox, not a silver bullet. Secondly, thinking it can be implemented overnight. It takes time to embed Agile into any business. Thirdly, removing all traditional project management, reporting and documentation. As I mentioned earlier, it is used to augment or complement traditional methods. And finally, not involving the wider organisation. It’s not just about software development. Everyone should have a good understanding of how things are going to work and should be part of the journey.

If you want to find out more about Agile and how you can implement it successfully in your business, visit our Agile Consultancy page and fill in the contact form. We’ll be in touch!

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