Today we’ll discuss the primary benefits of Agile, including:
- Increased visibility
- Increased adaptability (agility)
- Increased alignment
- Increased product quality
- Increased business value
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Decreased risk
Why did you decide to start exploring Agile? For most businesses, the decision to pursue Agile represents a conscious decision to embrace change. Maybe your organization is crumbling under the weight of inefficient systems, poor communication, or a lack of coordination across teams. Perhaps a new, scrappy competitor is forcing your organization to adapt or die – or maybe, you’re just looking for new ways to boost your productivity and feel happier at work.
Regardless of your reasons, there are many benefits of Agile that can help your business more effectively meet its goals. We’ll also touch on the less immediate, but equally valuable benefits of Agile on collaboration and morale.
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Ask any CEO what they wish they had more of in their company, and you are almost guaranteed to hear “visibility.” Visibility across the organization helps leaders make smarter decisions.
Visibility into what’s being done, when, and how increases transparency of leadership while improving accountability across the organization. It can also improve the overall agility of the organization; if everyone is on the same page, it’s easier to make strategic, coordinated pivots as needed to adjust to the marketplace. But visibility isn’t just helpful for leaders; it’s helpful for people at every level of the organization.
Increased visibility helps every person understand how their work ties into the big picture, and understanding why their work matters is critical for morale.
It’s clear that visibility is critical for organizations, and yet, many organizations struggle to achieve or sustain it. Agile practices and principles provide the foundation for increasing visibility over time. One very practical way to increase visibility is through the use of Kanban. Kanban is a visual management tool often employed by Agile organizations to visualize the processes and workflows through which work gets done.
The Agile Manifesto values responding to change over following a plan. Adaptability, at every level of the organization, is a key benefit of Agile. Why does adaptability matter? As organizations grow, they inevitably become more complex, and as anything becomes more complex, it tends to become slower. With disruptive startups changing the rules in virtually every industry, it’s important for incumbent players to keep up.
All too often, organizations try to combat disruption through a focus on speed, but speed without strategy and efficiency is not a sustainable solution. Working faster will burn out employees, and it’s not the way to build a more efficient system. This is why many organizations are turning to Agile, to increase the effectiveness of a system in a way that is sustainable and will produce more value for customers.
How does Agile promote adaptability? By breaking down the complexity and dependency in the way organizations do work. Agile teams practice iterative development, by which they plan and complete work in small pieces.
This is a far cry from traditional project management methods, whereby organizations put considerable effort into plans made based entirely on estimates. When these plans are forced to change, due to changes in requirements, market conditions, etc., the organization must spend more energy adjusting the plan, and adjusting the plan takes a long time.
Working iteratively in the Agile way cuts this waste down considerably. If the requirements for a deliverable change, teams can easily adjust without a devastating downstream effect because they’re releasing iteratively and gaining feedback as they go.
At the team level, this protects teams against the morale-killing struggles of rework and feeling like they’re never doing the right thing. For organizations, iterative development is a safer, more reliable way to reduce waste and the costs associated with estimate-based planning.
Increased adaptability can’t happen without increased alignment. There is an internal and an external component of alignment in Agile. Two factors come into play here:
- The self-organizing, autonomous nature of Agile teams
- The mandate to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery (which is first in the 12 guiding principles of Agile software development)
Internal alignment starts with motivated, self-organized Agile teams, who are empowered to execute from an earned level of autonomy. Effective Agile teams bring business alignment, experience, a spirit of collaboration, and a proven track record to completing ongoing projects.
Those teams understand that ideas for improving effectiveness or quality can come from people at every level. They welcome internal feedback that reduces waste (time), improves quality, or speeds delivery to customers at any point in the development process, even if it means changing requirements to implement. This comes from increased levels of communication and collaboration across Agile teams, further enabled by the Agile principle that encourages teams to regularly reflect on how to be more effective throughout the development process.
External alignment comes from prioritizing customers. This can happen in several ways, but it usually results from regular feedback interactions with customers (both internal and external) throughout the development process.
Agile teams stay in regular contact with customers throughout the development process to clarify expectations, collaborate on fixes, or to further discuss customer needs as they evolve.
Successful Agile teams often prioritize feedback from customers, even if it comes toward the end of the development cycle.
Increased Product Quality
The Agile Manifesto values working software over comprehensive documentation. One of the 12 principles clarifies this point further: Working software is the primary measure of progress. It’s a seemingly simple concept that has led to a more modular delivery of software. That shift profoundly impacts both how organizations deliver software to customers, and ultimately results in better quality overall.
Decades ago, before Agile, the development of computer operating systems were monolithic undertakings that took companies years to complete. They were complex, often utilizing millions of lines of code. Product delays – sometimes months or even years – were common occurrences.
Today, computer operating systems feature a much more modular design. They are typically annual releases. Often, feature updates happen even more frequently than that. These feature updates represent incremental updates to the core operating system. Security updates happen on a monthly, weekly, or sometimes even a daily cadence.
This emphasis on working code also disrupted commercial software and mobile development. Before Agile, IT organizations often spent millions to upgrade to new versions of popular commercial software packages.
Today, organizations pay for an increasing number of commercial applications via subscription. In many cases, subscription models simplify initial software deployment and software update delivery, while helping organizations better plan for costs.
The Agile development model paved the way for subscription-based software. It continues to drive software development in mobile as well. Mobile application updates happen at a rapid cadence. Android and iOS version updates happen annually, with both feature and security updates delivered to customers on an ongoing basis.
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 done in a way that maximizes customer value.
When work is planned and completed in lengthy development cycles, it’s hard to ensure this happens. 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 deliverables over others. Everyone must collectively decide which deliverables will create the most value. This consciousness helps ensure that the work completed aligns closely with what customers actually want and need.
Increased Customer Satisfaction
Agile teams start with the understanding that satisfying the customer is the highest priority. Successful Agile deliverables prioritize regular interactions with customers.
In the beginning, Agile teams clarify expectations and ensure they prioritize the customer problems they need to address. They then start delivering a working version of software on a frequent basis to demo functionality for customers throughout the development process. Doing so provides an ongoing opportunity for customer feedback. Product owners can use this customer feedback to prioritize development of certain features while moving other items that are less important into the product backlog to be tackled later.
All of these things collectively lead to higher customer satisfaction. Continuous customer alignment means Agile teams stay focused on delivering software features directly aligned to customers’ needs. That prioritized focus allows Agile teams to deliver value to customers faster, delivering higher quality software in the process.
Throughout this article, we’ve touched on the financial risk involved in traditional project management methods. Creating a giant, complex plan for how work should be done over the course of months or years is inherently wasteful. The extensive planning process is wasteful, relying on estimates is wasteful, and failing to incorporate the voice of the customer at every step of the way is simply wasteful.
But there’s another type of risk that businesses take when they operate in this way – they risk losing talented people. When organizations operate poorly and ineffectively, it’s difficult for talented, intelligent people to truly shine.
It’s up to organizations to create environments where smart people can feel safe to collaborate, communicate, and create freely. As discussed earlier, Agile team members play a key role in ensuring internal and external alignment.
Members of successful Agile teams develop new skillsets and expertise while gaining experience from their work in ongoing deliverables. This means those team members will be more valuable for future work, and it can also translate to increased levels of personal responsibility, or even lead to new roles within the organization. This is one of the less-often discussed, but most important benefits, of Agile.
If you’re looking for ways to increase visibility, adaptability, business alignment and value in your organization all while improving product quality, increasing customer satisfaction and reducing risk, Agile could be a great fit for your organization.