In 2001, a group of software developers met at a conference in Utah to discuss alternatives to the ‘waterfall model’, the dominant software development methodology of the day. They came up with a methodology they called ‘agile software development’, which was based on principles that were diametrically opposed to the waterfall model.
Agile software development was based around flexibility, short development cycles, rapid product deployment, and the incorporation of stakeholder feedback. The idea behind agile software development was to organize developers into small teams that could deliver a working product in a minimal amount of time.
Since then, agile software development has gained considerable popularity, especially among startups and small businesses. Even non-software companies have caught on the idea and are starting to utilize agile principles in project management.
In the remainder of this article, we will teach you how you can do the same.
1. Reorganize Departments into Smaller Teams
Small, cross-functional teams are the backbone of the agile model. The idea is that each team should be capable of carrying out a whole project on their own from start to finish. For instance, an agile sales-oriented company could be organized into teams consisting of a marketer, a sales rep, and a customer service agent. Each team would have the ability to manage a customer through the entirety of their buyer’s journey.
The agile model also prescribes that each team should have two additional members, a product owner, and a Scrum master. The role of the product owner is to ensure that insights and feedback from stakeholders are continually incorporated into the project. The Scrum master on the other hand serves the team by organizing meetings and discussions, tracking progress, and performing other management tasks.
2. Adopt an Iteration-focused Mindset
The agile model was initially developed in response to the slow development cycle of the waterfall model. Instead of waiting until the end of the production cycle to have a working product, proponents of the agile model argued that teams should strive to release a minimum viable product as quickly as possible. Releasing products as early as possible means more time for collecting feedback from stakeholders, which can then be incorporated into the next product iteration.
And the more iterations you have, the better suited your product will be. This iteration-focused mindset also means that you can keep the production cycle short, provided you reach a milestone where the stakeholders are satisfied.
3. Constantly Integrate User Feedback
User feedback is the main driving force behind the agile model. It is what enables companies to forgo excessive long-term planning, and focus on delivering immediate results. The agile model defines user feedback in terms of stories. A story in this context is a short description of a feature requested by the user. Stories are usually written on cards and they are a staple of the Kanban system, one of the leading agile development methodologies.
The purpose of a story is to facilitate a conversation about the requested feature. Ideally, a story should specify at least one criteria for its confirmation or implementation in order to retain its usefulness. Stories should be written from the user’s perspective, and use language they can understand.
4. Hold Regular Meetings for Status Updates
Communication is the glue that holds agile companies together. And in contrast to a hierarchical, department-based approach to product management, companies organized according to the agile model have more opportunities to hold work-related face-to-face conversations. The agile model prescribes that teams should have daily communication sessions called stand-up meetings (also known as daily scrums in the SCRUM model).
These meetings are usually conducted in front of a whiteboard or a large screen, and they are typically less formal than conventional company meetings. The purpose of each stand-up session is to discuss three questions: what each team member has accomplished the day before, what they plan on doing today, and what issues they came across during work. Stand-up meetings are integral for team self-organization. They keep each team focused on the task at hand while strengthening the identity of the team as a working unit.
5. Implement Agile with Software Tools
The process of organizing the production process according to agile principles can be streamlined by using the right kind of software. Agile-focused project management solutions are plentiful, with some of the top contenders being JIRA, Trello, Basecamp, Asana, and Active Collab.
Each of these software suites has features that can greatly help out agile teams. Kanban-style cards, group chat, progress tracking, and collaborative document editing are just some of the advantages that these tools bring. However, you can implement the agile model without resorting to these solutions. Agile is all about lean production, and sometimes it can be beneficial to design a custom application with just the features your company needs.
The agile model of management is causing big waves across different industries. Software developers are already reaping the benefits of shorter production cycles, well-organized teams, and reduced overhead, and other companies are quickly catching up.
If your company is apprehensive about using outdated management models, adopting agile principles is definitely a viable alternative.