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What is Agile?


People today have high expectations for the brands with which they interact. Organizations must be able to deliver value, both to their customers and their employees. They need to find ways to move faster, and to deliver higher quality products and services to customers while providing the structure and stability to promote a healthy organizational culture.

This is no small feat! And it can’t always be accomplished through traditional corporate systems. Scrappy startups and intelligently designed high-growth companies are disrupting many industries, and organizations of all sizes are interested in adopting the fast-moving, efficient methods making these businesses successful.

Agile principles are being called upon to help businesses move faster and produce higher-quality offerings in sustainable, healthy work environments. People in all kinds of teams, organizations, and industries use Agile to get ahead. Read on to learn the basic principles and practices used in Agile.

History of Agile

Agile was designed for software development teams as a time-focused, iterative way of achieving continuous value delivery. Developers were looking for a way to add flexibility, transparency, and communication to their processes. At the time, prevailing methods were cumbersome, with long development cycles and large, complex, infrequent releases. A group of developers came together to create the Agile Manifesto, which outlines the basic principles of what is or is not Agile.

After the Agile Manifesto formalized Agile as a distinct methodology, developers began practicing Agile to improve flexibility, customer / user satisfaction, and adaptability in the marketplace.

Instead of deploying software in large, scheduled releases, teams broke work down into small, frequent iterations. Rather than spending time gold-plating new releases internally, teams got work to a deployable state, released as it was ready, and allowed users to provide feedback on what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved.

Teams in all disciplines – marketing, sales, operations, and more – began adopting Agile practices to work more efficiently, communicate more clearly with customers, deliver high-quality products, and build more sustainable businesses.

Who Practices Agile?

Agile maintains its hold in software development and has also spread into marketing, sales, and other departments. Agile has been proven effective at the team level, but does not provide a framework for managing work across cross-functional teams, or scaling planning and prioritization at the team, project, and portfolio levels. This is why many companies have turned to hybrid models, like the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), as a way to scale Agile (influenced strongly by Lean) across their organizations.

Increased Business Value

The goal for any Agile team is to increase the value created for the customer. Without a deliberate focus on creating customer value, it’s easy to lose sight of what should drive business decisions. Agile empowers everyone, at every level of the organization, to ensure that work is being done in a way that maximizes customer value.

When work is planned and completed in lengthy development cycles, it’s hard to ensure that this is the case. The organization sets out in a direction, and unless something drastic happens requiring the initiative to change course, it will go as planned – regardless of whether the result truly meets customer needs. This is not only bad for the company’s reputation, it’s also a costly and risky way to do business.

Iterative development keeps customer value top-of-mind. At the beginning of each iteration, everyone involved in doing the work has to agree to prioritize certain projects over others. Everyone must collectively decide which projects will create the most value. This consciousness helps ensure that the work being done aligns closely with what customers actually want and need.

What are the Core Agile Values?

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Rather than emphasizing the structure, rules, and systems of work, focus on empowering smart people to collaborate efficiently and effectively.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Focus on building functional software one small iteration at a time. Delivering in frequent iterations reduces the need for excessive documentation.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Agile emphasizes fostering a close, communicative relationship with customers, so that customers are involved in the design / development process and their needs are met. This is a contrast to traditional software methods which relied on intensive contract negotiation at the beginning of a project, and then little to no communication during the design/development process.

Responding to change over following a plan

Traditionally, businesses of all types (including in software) have relied on extensive planning to deliver large, complex releases. Agile encourages companies to instead create a vision, based on the customer’s needs, and then work toward that vision one actionable step at a time, adjusting as needed. The Agile way is, put simply, more agile, in addition to also being a more reliable way of delivering quality products and services.

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