In the modern VUCA world, further complicated by a pandemic outbreak, speed and agility are becoming key parameters in any business. Those who can make decisions promptly, be flexible, and adapt to changes, take the lead.
Recently MindK representatives, namely Oleg Nesterov, CEO and our thought leader, and me, a professional Project Manager, were speakers in the first online Swiss DigitalHub seminar held by the Embassy of Switzerland. We discussed how to become truly agile in times of economic instability. Over many years, our company gained experience with the Agile approach, and there is no better time to share our insights with businesses in need. Here is only the small part of what we talked about.
Although most current business problems like high levels of uncertainty, lack of sufficient information to make proper decisions, super competitive markets are relevant even without the pandemic, now is the time to address changes needed in the months ahead. The question is how organizations can make this shift and adjust to the new environment. We think the answer is Agile.
Agile mindset: what makes it so trending?
Initially, the Agile concept was related to software development only. It means an iterative methodology of building products where the whole process is broken into smaller parts (called iterations). In such a case the team delivers parts of the functionality step by step, iteration after iteration.
We will talk about Agile mostly in software development but it is easy to apply its philosophy to other spheres of life and business. Today Agile has spread across industries to all parts and all types of organizations. No wonder, as it allows you to manage uncertainty in advance and adapt to changing requirements, without losing control over the progress. Even the FBI benefits from Agile workflow.
Agile product management was born as a lion-hearted answer to challenges of the traditional “waterfall” approach. Even if you think you are not using Waterfall, you probably are. Basically, most of the projects in our life are managed using it: people break down project activities into linear sequential phases. Each phase must be completed before the next phase can begin. The deadline and budget are assumed to be stable for the whole project from start to finish.
In such a way, if something unexpected happens, a Waterfall approach has no ability to quickly react to these changes and consequently has zero value. With Agile change management, on the contrary, you get a value even if the project stops halfway down the road. That is because the result of each iteration in Agile is a working and tested product or functionality – something that has real value to the customer.
According to the Agile Manifesto, a sort of a Bible that collects the whole Agile philosophy, the core values are:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. It emphasizes teamwork and communication as the basis of success. When the process involves human activity, the amount and quality of interaction inside the team are more important than the tools it uses.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation. This value highlights that the main goal of the development process is to deliver a product that offers business benefits instead of extensive documentation. Just imagine you have already hired a top team to deliver a highly anticipated product. What can assure you that the team you have hired is really delivering – a heap of reports and documentation, or, maybe, the ongoing delivery of working and tested software with the most critical features? Although, it doesn’t mean there is no documentation at all.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Its main idea is that the development team should work closely with the customer. Listening and getting feedback, helps to understand what stakeholders really want to get in the end. One of the main reasons software projects fail is the fact that the final product mismatches customer wants and needs. In other words, it means poor collaboration between stakeholders and the team during the project.
- Responding to change over following a plan. Changes are a reality in software development and everyday life. It is wrong to think that the Agile process is anarchical. Planning in Agile is as important as in the Waterfall. The main difference between them is mainly in timing. The Waterfall involves extensive detailed planning for a long period ahead. Agile uses the incremental planning method during the whole Agile software development life cycle. It makes the project plan flexible enough to change and adapt when the situation demands it.
These Agile development principles might not fit the traditional organization where everything is built on long-term planning and documentation. Actually, in the modern world, very few companies can afford to make a detailed plan or strategy for several years ahead and sleep with a peaceful mind.
The 13th Annual State Of Agile Report says that 97% of their respondents claim their organizations practice Agile development methods.
As you can see the flexibility and emphasis on quick results are the strongest points of Agile. But they are not the all you get with implementing it to your software development process.
5 bonus points gained from Agile approach that can help you fight the uncertainty
1: Faster Time to Market.
It is stated that Agile teams are on average 50% faster to market. And it is easy to explain. All Agile processes, no matter what framework you are using, have a number of approaches and techniques that are inherently formulated for boosting productivity, more adaptive Agile planning, iterative delivery, shorter customer feedback loop, and rapid reaction to change.
Agile provides you with the opportunity to validate the product quality much faster compared with Waterfall. Short development iterations allow testing the product sooner, then improving it based on the feedback received.
None of the mentioned processes is working independently, their synergy allows Agile teams to achieve a much faster time to market.
MindK’s team has worked on an Agile model for faster and better results for about 8 years now. We can see the great impact it has not only on the overall team performance and time to market but also on the customers` satisfaction. More about our end-to-end product development services you can learn here.
2: Reduced risks.
Since the result is checked at every stage, it gives an opportunity to identify, analyze, and mitigate risk at every phase of the development process. Thus, the chance of a complete product failure tends to be zero.
As you see the traditional approach puts a stake on the fact that the final testing stage will find issues and give the team time to correct all risks.
With the Agile model, on the contrary, you can gradually reduce risks with every iteration, thus, mitigating risks on the go. The fast feedback loops allow you to keep on minimizing product risk by cheering up clients with what they value.
The Agile failure rate is 8%, while the rate of the failure in Waterfall projects is about 21%.
Additionally, following the first advantage, it allows the company to hit the market earlier and generate revenue while continually improving the product. The risk of wasted resources is also kept to a minimum.
All these bring us slightly to the next advantage.
3: Predictable delivery of business value.
The Agile mindset has an increased focus on delivering strategic business value by involving stakeholders in the development process. By doing so, the team understands what’s most important and can deliver the features that provide the most value to the organization.
It happens as the scope of Agile projects is very flexible. It is a luxury Waterfall projects can’t afford, as their scope is fixed and cannot be changed on the go.
To illustrate the process, let’s take Scrum, one of the most popular Agile frameworks.
Product backlog contains the whole list of user stories the team should
work on. It is like a to-do list that is re-prioritized and freshened-up when necessary.
A user story is a short and simple description of a feature written as if the person is the one who needs a specific new capability. User stories for each iteration (called a sprint) are selected from the product backlog and form sprint backlog.
During the development process, the client can easily add /remove features to a product backlog or reprioritize them depending on the changing market and business demands. It happens before each sprint. This approach allows delivering a working production-ready piece of software that fits the up-to-date values of the customers. When one iteration is completed, the backlog is updated so that the process immediately starts again until the software development is completed and launched.
4: Satisfied users.
Recently West Monroe Partners released White Paper which states that 71% of Customer Experience (CX) leaders expect greater agility to translate into improved CX. They say that customer experience is the heart of business agility, it drives organisations forward and guides them to adapt.
It is hard to disagree. Especially since the very first principle of Agile Manifesto tells the same story: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
Agile development involves users during the whole process. Thus, it mitigates one of the main problems on software projects – the end-product that does not meet user needs.
For this purpose, Agile relies on user stories with business-focused acceptance criteria to define features. Acceptance criteria, in turn, are a set of predefined conditions that should be met to consider a user story complete.
By focusing on the needs of real users, each feature delivers a true value, not just an IT unit. It also allows testing software after each iteration, collecting user feedback early in the project and making changes on the go.
Such an orientation aimed at the end customer while building the product results in happy clients.They, in exchange, are more loyal, spend more money and speak positively about a product.
5: Improved quality of the end-product.
Quality may mean different things to different people. The term is quite ambiguous and we have to make sure we have a shared understanding.
According to the book Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products, the quality of the software product has two components – external, how the customer perceives the product, and internal one, how the Agile team understands it.
In other words, under internal quality we mean all that is built into the product like reliability, maintainability or durability. It can be measured by the presence of bugs or defects etc. External quality is the product’s value to the customer. It can be measured by sales, usage, feedback etc.
Agile approach focuses on both of these components. Breaking down the project into manageable units, the Agile team has an ability to focus on high-quality development, testing, and collaboration. Moreover, it is easier to reveal the problems when you test a smaller amount of work. And as a result, it is easier to apply fixes for a piece of a product you just created, rather than something you created several months earlier.
The right way to embrace Agile
In cases when you see that your Agile project doesn’t look as described above – you are not alone. Too many companies claim that practicing Agile cannot deliver the expected results. Meanwhile, other companies provide a spectacular example of the opposite.
Who is right?
Our answer is – those who do it right, because Agile is a successful tool only when you follow its principles and use it according to its intended purpose. Of course, each rule has exceptions. Just as well, because there are projects that are ill-suited for Agile.
For this reason we have written an ebook that gives you simple and straightforward guidelines on how to build software products effectively and stress-free applying Agile principles. It is an Agile tutorial with actionable steps, precautions, tips based on our own experience, explaining all Agile terminology in simple words.
The book will be most useful for business owners:
- who have an idea of a product and ready to go ahead with it;
- who are in the early stages of the software development process;
- who have already started the development but have certain obstacles;
- who are afraid of introducing agile on their next project;
If you need any additional information or some help to turn your software product into reality, just drop us a line.