Agile – the best approach the dream comes true

Agile – the best approach the dream comes true

By Olga Kotlamina

The world has changed and changes constantly due to new technologies which at the same time get out of the date quite quickly. Different areas of business deal with such kind of projects that they haven’t launched before, so the project planning runs with a high level of uncertainty and is actually based on a lot of hypotheses. Market forecasts and user preferences are becoming extremely difficult to predict.

IT market faced this problem much before others, and Agile became the answer to the challenge. EU and U.S. companies started to include this awesome word in contract clauses, and the market quickly adopted such an approach.

As a new approach in product development, project management, and teamwork, agile (meaning ‘flexible’) is successfully developing in Western countries and becoming tremendously popular in Ukraine. Nowadays flexibility acquires special importance following trends of software development.

After the IT market, banks were the first who master this approach during new banking products implementation. Then the new trend was picked up by telecom, adopted by retail, and even tried up in the film industry. The agile approach was transferred from software development to marketing, sales, and even the accounting department.

So, what is Agile? Why is it so popular now and how does it allow successful launch of new products and services as well as scaling up a business?

Agile is a kind of mindset adopting its own system of values that is very similar to religion or philosophy, where each person does not follow the rules but accepting values instead. Change the way of thinking causes a change in the behavior. Agile evangelists and followers believe, and prove it in practice, that successful products are created by cross-functional teams (teams that combines necessary diversity of skills and knowledge). Looks like utopia, but the idea is that a team produces not a set of roles, but a combination of necessary skills, and this makes everything logical.

Agile is built on empiricism (learning via sensory perception & experience). You can learn how to bike by reading a lot of books, watching tons of videos, analyzing others experience, etc., but the best approach is to take a bicycle and try to ride. The second postulate is quick feedback. This rule is used by startups and even such thing as MVP was introduced: a product with minimal functionality that can be given to users to try. Iteration is another fantastic feature of Agile approach – development or implementation executes by short same periods (for example, a week or a month). Before the very beginning of each iteration, the smart goals are set to describe the complete result that has to introduce clear business value. Complete means, that no extra changes are required. Having been trained at a Polish University to manage European projects, very important role was dedicated to setting goals and determining direct and indirect results of the project. For example, in the funding programme, Horizon 2020, 15 points out of 100 are given to the section of project estimation, setting up smart goals and expected, and this is really a lot.

One may hear the conclusion that Agile is a lack of technical requirements and documentation. This is absolutely not true. When we build a house, we have to lay the foundation first for the entire project building, even if the construction will take place in several stages. Task prioritization is an important part of planning. For instance, in my online banking account, I want to transfer money through Internet banking. Buying tickets directly from my account is a great feature, but it has low priority. I will not be able to use my account without entering my username and password. So as a user, I do not want to use money transfer service without a secure login option. This function is of high priority.
Results evaluation, the introduction of changes and additions, optimization of processes related to another crucial part of Agile. Following the Agile approach means implementing of constant improvements. All team members work to improve projects, products, and results of teamwork thanks to high motivation. The result of the team matters, but not one person’s result in particular. Thanks to such approach the productivity of the team is dramatically growing – the number of tasks the team performs over the short period of time. We measure this performance in T-shirts or Parrots. This is due to the peculiarities of the human brain when the evaluation of work might depend on the mood of the person and the level of understanding of the task. On the street, we see two closest buildings. It will be difficult to estimate the height of each building in meters, but each person can tell how much one building is higher than another. We choose a standard that is clear to everyone and compare with it.

Using flexible methodologies solves a wide range of tasks. There are some of them:

  • You need to implement projects, but there are no qualified people with proven experience and competencies, or you are not sure about the quality of their background. This situation is very familiar for rapidly developing areas. In this case Agile ensures trajectory observability of way to the goal, so problems will be identified on the early stages.
  • You continuously receive a large flow of tasks from stakeholders who don’t particularly care to agree on mutual priorities, some of them even have the authority to demand “to stop other tasks and immediately do what they need”. In classical management, such work turns into a stream of hard labor with a huge amount of unfinished work, but Agile approach allows to lead it to controlled flow with acceptable efficiency.
  • Working in areas with a high level of uncertainty of incoming requirements is calling for experiments and corrections of in-between results. For example, in marketing, or experiments with different variants of one product.

Such diversity does not mean that all set goals can be achieved using the same approach. On the contrary, it requires the implementation of various methods and their clear settings, as well as settings of the environment – human resources, permanent work with staff, motivation systems, etc.

However, particular methods can be set up during the process of implementation, the main thing is clearly defining those goals that you want to achieve by transforming the organization.