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Business Agility and Agile Methodology

What is Agile?

For many in the business world SCRUM is synonymous with adaptive business practices. This useful framework is actually only one version of an approach to business problems known as Agile Methodology. Developed by a team of software designers in 2001, Agile is a practice of problem solving that relies on a combination of flexible and reliable processes to execute business goals. “Agile” is the term used to reference four core ideals and the mindset one must adopt to navigate with business agility.

Though established with software development in mind, the values encompassed by Agile have broad applicability if adopted as a way of thinking about business challenges, even if they are more easily translated into a product focused result. The four principles of this methodology are as follows:

The Four Principles of Agile Methodology

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working product over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

Agile Manifesto

You may balk at the thought of, say, not having a contract negotiated and agreed upon, but these principles do not discount the latter part of each point. The aim is to maintain the perspective that the first aspect holds more weight and influence than the second aspect.

Base Method

Though it is most beneficial to frame Agile Methodology as a mindset to approach all problems through, a framework will help teams and individuals to follow a path of progress. This can be simplified into four basic steps: Planning, Designing/Building, Review/Evaluation, Implementation/Release. Review and Evaluation would more accurately be repeated after Implementation/Release, but that is part of the iterative process associated with the method. The broad application of a “way of thinking” has resulted in branches and sub-methodologies that have been adopted by certain industries over the years. The most common of these is Scrum, Extreme Programming, and Lean Manufacturing/Development, though there are many more.

How is Agile Different?

Traditionally, projects follow a “waterfall” approach. A goal is set, detailed planning occurs, and the execution is the final stage before completion. This process relies on the expectation that factors will remain the same from planning through completion. When adhering to Agile to achieve results, teams will go through an iterative process. These iterations combine individual operation, team collaboration, and client input to constantly improve a product or service through cycles of testing and review. 

For example, imagine if your team was tasked with creating a paper airplane that can successfully fly across a room. With Agile methodology in place, your teammates would be assigned different roles—one who would perform quality checks, another who would be responsible for improving the process itself, and everyone would be concentrating on building as many planes as possible. Since agile is an iterative process, you’d agree on constructing and testing variations of paper airplanes in different cycles. 

Agile methodology allows your team to test the product frequently and make improvements as you go along. By the final cycle, your team should be faster with improvements and the product should be at its peak success. Moreover, the agile approach is often faster and cheaper than the waterfall methodology. Take a look at an overview of First Flight Agency’s Agile process.

Where did Agile come from?

Many of us remember the growth of personal computing in the 90s, and as more people began to use these amazing ubiquitous tools, more software jobs were created. The demand for new and better software was immense, and the mobilization to fill that need was swift and furiously competitive. With such demands, developers began to realize that established business practices were insufficient to maximize and strengthen production of end user content. So began a shift in development processes. At that time, Agile methods were developed organically by few in the industry and applied in-house by their teams. By the year 2000, our lives had already drastically gravitated towards the technology being created, seeing the creation/release of the first camera phone, the USB flash drive, and bluetooth capability. In 2001 a prescient group(credited as 17 individuals) of software developers gathered to consolidate these new methodologies of production for a burgeoning industry. They distilled what they believed should be the core principles of their market and coined the term “Agile software development”. 

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Processes and tools indeed are the actual implements used to perform any task, but a tool is simply that. There is a familiar saying illustrating that “when all you have is a hammer, all your problems become nails”. Most business professionals will understand that growth and even consistency require the ability to overcome obstacles with the appropriate tool or process. The additional facet of Agile in this case is the emphasis on a team approach to problem solving. Fostering collaboration within the group as they formulate solutions will always result in a more robust and durable solution. 

The processes and tools used should aid the cooperative efforts of the individuals in your business. Tools should be used to do what they can, while freeing the human element of the process to do what only we can, namely, engage in critical thinking and creative problem-solving. This can also apply to consumer faced interactions. Tools that can automate a retail transaction are convenient and often will improve a customer’s experience of the transaction, but there may be a point where a human interaction will elevate the experience. Emotional intelligence isn’t something we can program yet. An individual’s time is worth it to advance a brand and retain great customers. Internal operations will benefit from face-to-face interactions as well. Think about the ease of talking about complex scenarios over email or text against a phone call or meeting. If there will be something lost by using the tools, engage in human interactions. 

Working product over comprehensive documentation

Initially, software development was created through a full series of design rounds and testing with exhaustive documentation throughout the process. Of course, it is not a bad thing to have a record of a project’s stages, but the goal isn’t to have a record, it is to have a marketable product or service. In this context, iteration is the process for success. Once a product is created or a service established, market feedback will allow you to discover its strengths and weaknesses. With that knowledge obtained the next version should be implemented. A continuous cycle of feedback and improvements will allow a business to gain or maintain market share. Think about the Palm Pilot. Their devices were synonymous with PDAs, but as the industry shifted towards the sleek devices we use today, Palm did not innovate and modify. The introduction of a new and improved personal digital assistant, the iPhone, was the final nail in the coffin for Palm. Agile iteration will also inform planning, approvals, and team delegation once fully implemented. The objective being to launch viable products quickly, within reason, and in workable pieces that can be improved upon as needed. 

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

The idea with this principle is closely tied to the preceding concept, in that the work you do should be divided into small segments. By working on smaller aspects of a product or service, you are able to include the customer in the process. All industries have an end user, and the goal is to provide them with something that they enjoy using. When you draw on opinions and experiences from actual consumers during the design and development process, the result will be a greater market share, a more reliable product, and a highly loyal and engaged customer base. This technique can also apply to internal organization goals. If a boss, CEO, or board has set a goal or goals, executing their vision while allowing for input from that “customer” will create something that will closely align with the true goal(and therefore give you points with the boss). Both internal and external facing strategies will ultimately result in greater satisfaction and reduced costs. 

Responding to change over following a plan

We all respond to change, and we all like to think that we will respond to changing environments to the best effect. On a large scale, this is generally true. We all make the choices that benefit us in the long run, but the theory behind this precept is rapid change in an ever changing environment. This could be the defining principle of Agile. It is almost the definition of the word “agility”. A plan of implementation should be created, but an Agile team will remain aware of changes in the market, economy, source data, and even the weather, shifting direction as needed. Depending on the project there are a number of factors that can affect the timeline and consequently the cost of any process. This factor alone highlights the nature of Agile as almost a mindset more than a set procedure.

Would you like to see how we can use Agile Methodology to help overcome business challenges you are facing? Are you considering expanding or branching into a new market? Contact us and we will gladly take those steps with you.