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Agile Basics

Updated: Mar 30

Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of betting everything on a "big bang" launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments. Requirements, plans, and results are evaluated continuously so teams have a natural mechanism for responding to change quickly.


THE MANIFESTO

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools

  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over Following a plan

AGILE LIFECYCLE

The lifecycle at its highest altitude consists of 6-7 phases. Time spent on each stage is dependent on the type of product or project in which you will apply the Agile framework.


Phase 1 begins with Requirements and defining the overall need for the project as a whole.

Phase 2 focuses on Design, or solutions to meet the need. At this point, the solution is broken down and added to a Backlog in a series of tasks. Resources are factored in, and finally, a logical, cost-effective approach to the need is articulated.


Phase 3 consists of iterative work that follows a Task List pulled from the Backlog. These are elements free of dependencies, built or deployed as individual units that will go together to make a successful whole. Iterations are two weeks to 30 days, with daily updates on completing tasks or identifying obstacles or hold-ups.

Phase 4 is the Quality phase, where completed items are reviewed, as in code review or deployment logistics. Software environments have dedicated QA familiar with the teams' code standards and product requirements. These roles often morph Phase 4 and 5 together if groups are smaller or don't have formal code standards.


Phase 5 is the Test phase, where real-world stressors are put on the building blocks to see if the outcome meets project requirements in the iteration. Communication is vital here, as the breakdowns or bugs need to be well articulated and aligned with requirements, so the team can quickly get back on track or rethink the approach.

Phase 6 is the Delivery of fully functioning components or deployment of materials. Successful items are marked as closed in Agile management software or even a dry erase board. This way, handling each task allows the following items in the Backlog to be prioritized and moved into the next iteration or Sprint. When the final Delivery of the entire product/project is complete, a discussion occurs for how to execute at an even higher level on upcoming projects.


I mentioned that there are 6 or 7 phases; Phase 7 is a review of requirements IF Delivery fails. Items that failed return to the Backlog for re-prioritization. Failed components are the most significant way to slow the project down, which is why each phase of the life cycle is so critical. Over time, the framework's repetition allows the team to work with the same mindset so that the process happens more efficiently and almost without conscious thought. Teams begin to click, and a palpable momentum is present. Soon, changes and obstacles that used to be an irritation, taking a toll on the team's overall mood, have less and less impact because multiple small successes occur daily. The team's morale infects the project/product in a good way, and it shows in both quality and profitability.


USING AGILE IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Created for software development, Agile is quickly being adopted by more than just IT teams. Marketers, universities, the military, and even the automotive industry utilize the Agile methodology and other Agile frameworks to deliver innovative products in uncertain environments. Many organizations can benefit from Agile project management, regardless of size, and it's simple to set up and utilize.

Agile allows teams to break down projects, product, or hardware rollouts; even social media campaigns benefit from Agile. However, the key is morphing the framework to meet your particular need, i.e.: project management, training development, product rollout, etc. Adhering to the framework is critical, though. Anything else will soon put your team back into an inefficient and dysfunctional state. In worst-case scenarios, leadership will lose trust and may be unable to reinstitute Agile or even get the team to consider organized project/product management.


HYBRID OR EMBEDDED AGILE

With more extensive products or rollouts, larger groups are having great success using Agile as a phase or segment of the overall process. It's not for the faint of heart and certainly used by larger workgroups with lots of experience and a full understanding of each method in play. Management and development this way allows for more design upfront and even detailed modeling and decision making. If paralleled with ongoing iterations, it doesn't slow projects down, but the overall resources needed to complete this problem-solving style are higher and consume more. The trade-off is an exceptionally well-thought-out approach that is more efficient and turns out unique products in the long run.

Upstream from the Agile lifecycle begins with Design Thinking and Lean Startup. Both contemporaries of Agile and both have their frameworks, but each focused on a particular area of problem-solving, defining, and simulating solutions. One might assume that they are different types of Agile, they are not. They provide vetting of well-defined needs to produce better outcomes even faster than Agile alone. Mentioning this is simply a way to illustrate that Agile can stand alone very quickly or partner with many other processes, both formal and informal.


RAMPING UP

Once your organization feels comfortable moving forward with Agile, you might consider certifying a team leader as a Scrum Master. Doing so provides a relatively inexpensive way to plant the seed for your entire company to use Agile. Classes are held in person or virtually during Covid. They are solid learning experiences overall and quickly turn the light on how Agile can be applied internally.


The Scrum Master can then educate your teams on how to transition, how to conduct daily stand-ups, plan Sprints, and keep everyone inside the lines of the framework. In short order, other business units within the organization can take advantage of the process and saturate the entire company in a repeatable, efficient, and successful method for getting projects done.


ACHIEVING SUCCESS

The transition to the Agile methodology, software and tools, daily scrums, roles, and principles will help you change your team's mindset and empower them to begin working together to be more flexible and adapt to changes as they come. Agile isn't for everyone, but groups who use it correctly will experience enormous benefits, including streamlined work processes, rapid innovation, and ever-increasing value as an organization.

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