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The Basics: A Guide to the Agile Approach and Why It Matters to Your Company

Welcome to 2022! I thought an excellent way to start the new year would be to take a few minutes and review the basics of Agile. This might be an old topic for some of you, but, over the past year, I have heard plenty of stories about companies that were having trouble adopting it in 2021. So, I thought it might be beneficial to revisit the fundamentals of Agile, its importance to organizations, and what you need to know to start applying it.

What is Agile?

The Agile approach to solution development has been getting a lot of traction in the last decade. However, it is often a misconception that Agile is a particular method. In reality, Agile is a set of values and principles that improve the overall desirability of a work product when applied to a development lifecycle, business strategy, or another task. Like any set of positive values, Agile helps affect how individuals approach work and tackle problems. It does what the word implies; agile is about making fast, purposeful, and more well-coordinated movements and changes in our work product and flow.

From an outside observer’s perspective, an Agile project may look like any other approach, with teams identifying the project goals and deliverables, planning, and doing development work. However, the approach differs because teams apply Agile values, which change how things are delivered and improved. One of the significant changes is that the goal is to produce early versions of a working product that satisfies part of the customer requirements every few weeks or months rather than once at the end of development. Doing this allows teams to review progress with customers in smaller, more focused increments, enabling them to gain valuable feedback and critical insight on improving, expanding, or even dropping requirements altogether. Agile values and principles also profoundly affect communication, collaboration, and responsiveness. To better understand why this happens, let’s explore these values in a little more depth.

What are the Guiding Values of Agile?

The first value is Individuals and Interactions. Agile understands that people and teams are the foundation for any product delivery. This is why Agile companies put their employees at the center of their business, allowing employees to fulfill their potential and deliver high value to their customers. This principle, when practiced, also enables an environment that fosters effective communication between individuals. This improves collaboration and builds a healthy diversity of skills and ideas, which helps to speed up product development.

The second is focused on the importance of Working Product, even when the product is at its earliest stages of development. This is a critical approach to help to improve quality and enables valuable proof that your product is going in the right direction. Product requirements are often not finalized at the start of the development process. As a result, it is crucial to demonstrate and collect feedback from stakeholders. This kind of feedback can help you improve the product and improve the overall value to your customers. The other critical aspect is that when things are in a working state, it helps to reduce the overall complexity and risk. Too much work in progress can impact and slow the delivery performance of the team because of frequent context switching, more complex quality assurance, and increased overhead of managing open project tasks. Lastly, from the business perspective, it also enables a potential early release of your product. Because everything is in a working state, a customer can take an early release. This can help recover development costs earlier and help fund later versions of the product.

The final two values are tightly coupled with the first two. The Agile approach is grounded by prioritizing Customer Collaboration and Responding to Change. Customer collaboration helps create a sense of ownership and togetherness among many customers, which helps sustain product longevity. Furthermore, customers will be less inclined to stop using the product because they have built up equity. This, in turn, reduces development waste by delivering what customers want to see in the product. So responding to change becomes a critical attribute for development teams. We still have time and budget constraints in Agile projects, but, when managed correctly, customers are a part of the process of helping to prioritize and define what fits within those constraints.

Why Agile Matters to Your Company?

Companies need to work in this way because of the inherent complexity of products, unpredictable usage patterns, and lack of knowledge about what will happen when a product launches. These factors make it challenging, if not impossible, to plan everything before building a product. But, as said above, Agile improves communication between the development team, the rest of the company, and customers while the product is in development, helping avoid late-stage surprises by implementing regular check-ins with stakeholders at every product development phase. Moreover, it does something far more critical by setting the tone and expectations of what you stand for as a company and what it will be like to work with you. If executed correctly, it helps establish credibility, trustworthiness, and humanness, which is critical in distinguishing your company brand.

How to Get Started with Agile?

To conclude, the most important thing to focus on is the Agile values. After all, values are the foundation for everything. I recommend that you reach out to an Agile mentor or coach to help guide your team through a process that suits your project size and complexity. They can help guide your team in the process of learning and putting the values into practice. You can also join an industry trade association to get in touch with practitioners in your industry. Nonprofits like the Agile Alliance offer a wealth of information online and a vast member community. Regardless of how you start, remember to promote and amplify the Agile values in your adoption process. There is no better way to learn than to encourage those values from the start. I wish you luck and a happy new year!

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