Last year, Gartner predicted the changing face of application development would result in traditional development approaches failing. Although it's too early to state whether such predictions will galvanise the market, it's clear agile is now the approach of choice for many software development teams in businesses of all sizes.
Companies are recognising the methodology is no longer solely applied to just the technology development. It can have a positive impact in a number of different practices and processes outside of the IT team.
This article highlights a number of fundamental areas of business where the agile approach can produce demonstrable results, and puts the case forward for complete adoption.
Agile isn't an approach businesses simply switch on or off on a whim, they must fully commit to the approach to truly reap the benefits. This often requires widespread change throughout an organisation which can be perceived as onerous, but once embraced, produces company-wide results. Specific areas include:
• Eliminating waste – the term 'streamline' has long been a buzzword bandied around by businesses that believe they are working as efficiently as possible. However, some organisations are not being ruthless enough, simply paying lip service to the idea of change, rather than wholeheartedly evaluating each area of the business to truly understand where problems lie and drive efficiencies.
For example, an often overlooked area is meetings. These play a vital role in almost every business and it's astounding so much time continues to be wasted in them. There is a culture of professionals 'putting an hour in the diary' for meetings, resulting in a group of employees taking a large portion of their working day to discuss issues at length, when a brief meeting would produce the same results. The agile approach to meetings revolves around one question; is the process contributing to your business' success? If the answer to that is no, it must be eliminated.
• Communication and collaboration – although traditional business models incorporate communication and collaboration, the usual approach is to assign one person to each project. This is perceived to be effective and profitable – a quick approval from senior management upon completion and the task is done. Or is it? This may seem the best approach, but in many cases there is often little or no feedback until a project is completed. At this point amending work, whether it be software, event planning or reports, is far more time consuming.
Using time as effectively as possible is central to the agile principle. Simple techniques such as placing two people on one task will ensure at least one employee is always aware of the process and project status, regardless of illness or holiday. Also, using progress boards to highlight the daily workload of each team member ensures effective use of time and that communication is constantly at the heart of the business.
• Documentation – much like meetings, documentation has long served as a vital cog in business life. Although at times it is important to have physical records of transactions or agreements, many professionals feel the need to document every action they complete as it serves as a safety net. This may seem efficient, but it can also waste time which could be focused on adding value to the business.
For example, using traditional software development methods, a completion report provides an in-depth review of the project. Although this may be an interesting read, offering high-level insight, what happens if the client isn't happy with an aspect of the software? A lengthy report won't prevent contractual disputes from occurring if a business isn't satisfied with the final product.
Agile professionals have brief and frequent customer communication to discuss the latest progress, ensuring complete transparency for everyone involved. Only actions or points which are useful are documented – non-essential information is cut out to ensure as much time as possible is saved.
If it isn't broken, why fix it?
Some businesses will always be resistant to change, whether for financial reasons or the fact that they are simply stuck in their ways. However, these organisations risk being left behind by their competitors if they fail to recognise the potential impact that agile practices can have in business growth.
With agile, productivity increases almost instantly as superfluous tasks are cut, freeing up time to focus on more important actions. Managers have increased capacity to delegate tasks, enabling them to concentrate on what is most important – adding value to their business.
To ignore the benefits of the agile methodology is to accept mediocrity, regardless of the size, success or sector a business trades in. No company can afford to overlook the opportunity to work more efficiently, and effectively – an unquestionable edge in today's competitive business environment.
One small step is a giant leap for businesses
With clear benefits of adopting agile, the question is how should businesses implement this? As with any change, if rushed there is a chance it could have a negative impact, especially if employees are hesitant to alter the way they work.
Adopting agile can be done gradually across a business – if the IT department is using the methodology, the team can become advocates and mentors for different departments, fostering a positive experience whilst changes take place.
Within the next five years, the agile approach is set to become mainstream. Embracing company-wide adoption will not only increase productivity and profitability, but provide a robust platform to ensure the business is in the strongest shape possible to foster growth.
- John Cooke is founder and managing director of Black Pepper Software