In a business context, Agile is a globally recognised term for a set of methods championed in recent years in the technology sector to improve the delivery of software. It encompasses ideas such as adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continuous development and encourages rapid and flexible responses to change.
The broader adoption of the agile philosophy and its scope for improving productivity, maintaining focus and lightening the mental load of managers, is the subject of this interesting volume. Author Waldock is a coach and mentor who has worked with small and medium-sized businesses in the UK and is also one of the organisers of one of the world’s leading agile conference called “Agile on the beach”, held every year in Falmouth, Cornwall.
She sets out a strong case for implementing this approach with supporting research showing wide differentials between low-agility and high-agility organisations in meeting project objectives that include on-time and on-budget delivery, meeting business objectives and meeting or exceeding return on investment. Agile improves responsiveness, communication, productivity, motivation, quality of work, focus and planning and prioritisation, she says.
One of the first tools that you need when adopting an agile mentality is a simple wad of sticky notes, it is suggested. If you record things on sticky notes they are visible and tactile and groups of notes can be easily reviewed and moved around to reorder and restructure them without having to write anything.
On a broader level, one of the things we need to achieve is an understanding of the logic behind agile thinking. Accepting the constancy of change is crucial. Traditionally, businesses like to operate with reasonable certainties, with fixed deadlines, budgets and resources. Letting go of existing processes and systems to adopt agile can be difficult, especially for those who are comfortable with routine.
However, in order to reach goals effectively, we need to accept that goals will change and evolve over time. Challenges need to be responded to, learning needs to be built in and reworking should be expected. It is perfectly valid to change course in the journey to our destination.
In developing a project or product, agile thinking suggests that a number of versions may need to be created before success is reached and it is a journey of learning that needs to be navigated and refined until the best solution is found. Agile works in small incremental cycles of action, interleaved with time for reflection and learning. Improvement and change is embedded into day-to-day activity, rather than being a separate process.
It’s important not to scope everything out at the start of a process. Rather, the approach should be one of capturing and reviewing what we know, establishing our goals, vision and key objectives and then acting in small, incremental improvement steps based on validating the vision and future options. As the author notes, things rarely happen the way we picture them.
Building in slack is important. Google’s 20 per cent discretionary time for employees’ own projects is referenced in this context. Knowing where the value is created is important too so the Pareto Principle or 80:20 rule is cited also.
The influence of the experience of the software industry is evident in Waldock’s enthusiasm for the minimum viable product (MVP) concept. The words “minimum” and “viable” have equal weight here, she notes. An MVP, she clarifies, is not a cheaper or diluted version of the final product but “a representation of it, either in whole or part, that delivers value or represents the tangible activity or solution in some way”.
The concept can therefore be used to test ideas without committing huge resources, allowing for staged development, which itself allows the scope to change. By delivering value early, it also means that a return can be gained much earlier in the development cycle that can be reinvested into additional time and resources.
Waldock has some interesting observations here in a relatively short volume that should prove useful to those scoping and commissioning projects.