Agile methodologies have exponentially increased the success rate and speed at which software solutions are developed and launched by thousands of companies since the latter half of the 1990s.
Their impeccable track record for fostering success has led to an increasing popularity in recent years, not just among IT departments but across entire companies, replacing the traditional planning methods - namely, the cascade model - in projects as diverse as programming the schedule for radio stations to the development of new products in the aeronautical sector or even for winemaking.
Agile methodologies consist in taking employees outside their comfort zones and expertise to integrate them into interdisciplinary teams that are self-managed and in close contact with clients. This approach not only guarantees a real shortcut to success, but also a key means of training, empowering and motivating a new generation of workers.
But what exactly are Agile methodologies? We are explaining it in this post.
This post is also available in Spanish.
What are agile methodologies and how can they be used beyond the IT department?
Even though there are various types of methodologies that fall into the category of agile -
such as the “scrum”, “lean development”, “kanban”, etc.-, they share all the same manifesto, and their fundamental principles are both, easy to understand and consistent to be applied:
- Generate a list of projects that can be executed by a company or a department and rank each project’s priority;
- Create and empower a small, multidisciplinary team - ideally between three and nine people - that manages itself and is completely dedicated to bringing a given project to fruition;
- Designate a product owner who splits his or her time between managing the team and being the point of contact between the product and the rest of stakeholders, who, aside from the team, include the client and senior management;
- Continually evaluate which projects should have priority so as to always focus attention on the ones with the greatest potential.
The rules that govern Agile teams are also consistent: the mere assignment tasks to individuals should be avoided; a road map should be devised by a team and divided up into small, manageable tasks; each task should have a deliverable, meaning something tangible for the client to see or try out, completed within a cycle of two to four weeks called a “sprint”; finally, to help the team avoid distractions, there is usually a designated facilitator who continually encourages the use of collective intelligence to problem-solve.
Agile processes are characterized by transparency - with daily standup meetings in which team members report progress and identify obstacles -; by the ongoing client testing of prototypes at the end of each sprint; by the capacity to carry out a rapid launch when a product passes the acid test with the client; and by their approach of continual improvement, based on the team’s scrupulous review post-sprint.
The results of using Agile show an increase in productivity levels, a rise in the team’s overall job satisfaction as well as a greater level of client engagement, participation and satisfaction, among other advantages.
The 12 commandments of Agile methodologies
To create the right kind of environment to launch and capitalize on all the advantages that Agile methodologies offer, it is important to be strict when allocating time slots to sprints or generating a flexible working environment for teams. Beyond these conditions , there are twelve additional must-dos to ensure success:
- Study and then teach the entire organization what is meant by Agile to avoid the temptation to correlate it with a controlled anarchy that only benefits a privileged few.
- Identify the best working approach on a project by project basis, because Agile is not suitable in all cases. It is not advisable, for example, to use Agile for processes where the solution or end product is already well-defined and resists compartmentalization, as any changes halfway through a project can end up incurring significant (and unaffordable) costs.
- Check that a team using Agile has a sufficient number of members, not just in terms of their expertise but also their training and motivation levels: Agile methodologies require professionals to be proactive and have a positive outlook, and will not benefit sceptical hardliners or employees that always need to be pushed into action.
- Avoid the scenario in which all a company’s projects are using Agile to prevent the entire company from being dogged by frantic deadlines and sprints: instead, focus on applying Agile methodologies to no more than two or three projects at a time.
- Following on from the last point, begin using Agile on smaller projects that ideally have the involvement of the IT department, since the latter already has a familiarity with Agile’s jargon and dynamics. This will allow the careful construction of a solid company culture in which people feel comfortable working with Agile.
- In these pilot projects, focus on using the standard methodologies. When your teams become more accustomed to working in this way, be open to altering the Agile approach and even consider a certain amount of improvisation within well-defined parameters.
- Avoid placing the same people in a number of different teams, because they will likely lose their focus or feel submerged under an unmanageable amount of stress.
- Do not obsess over follow-up meetings; a brief daily catch-up about pending tasks in standup meetings will suffice.
- Do not succumb to the temptation of talking down to teams unilaterally: any dialogue must be constructive and decisions made as a group.
- Accept and manage any tensions that arise among team members or between the team and other sections of the company.
- Show the rest of the company exactly how Agile methodologies work, while constantly and firmly managing any expectations of team members as well as onlookers from other teams within the company.
- And, above all, do not give too much thought to the project’s ultimate success; rather, ensure each sprint is leading the project in the right direction.
At Signaturit, our team of developers and product designers work using the scrum methodology. The design team plans its tasks in two-week sprints and when a new design feature is ready to be developed and implemented, it is passed over to the developers and incorporated into the latter’s own sprint, which again lasts two weeks.
In this way, we update our product every 15 days. Even though many sprints may pass unnoticed by the client, each one serves to improve our electronic signature solution on both a functional and aesthetic level. And every month we update our clients on any improvements made through our newsletter. If you wish to know more about the latest developments to our product, click to read more.
This post is also available in Spanish.