by Rob Bellenfant, founder and CEO of TechnologyAdvice
If you keep up with the news on project management and business strategy, you’ve probably come across the buzzword “agile” more than a few times. You may have also noticed that agile methodology — which was once thought to be only for software developers — is now being used just about everywhere, from construction to marketing, human resources, manufacturing, and even wedding planning.
But what does it mean to be agile and do agile as a business unit? It’s clear that the IT world loves agile: over 75 percent of software developers are using, or plan to use agile project management software. But can agile really be used for anything, in any industry?
Let’s start with what the term “agile” means. It’s not a project management framework, as many mistakenly think, but rather a development philosophy centered on cross-functional, self-organizing teams. It focuses on adaptive planning rather than predictive, and progress made through short, repeatable iterations. Many project management frameworks are rooted in agile, such as scrum, kanban, lean, and extreme programming (XP).
Agile was created as a way to enable greater productivity and responsiveness in the software industry to changing customer demands. With that in mind, the key tenets of agile development from the 2001 Agile Manifesto include:
- Satisfying customers through continuous, early delivery
- Harnessing change to improve product
- Frequent product delivery (from every two weeks to two months)
- Frequent collaboration of stakeholders and developers
- Regular self-assessment and adjustment of teams and project
Agile methodology typically breaks projects down into smaller increments to be worked on in short time frames (“sprints,” if you’re using scrum). It relies on a high degree of communication and collaboration, as well as short feedback cycles (from customers and team members).
Why it Can Work Outside of Software Development.
Since the early days of the software revolution, agile has been adopted by non-IT teams in countless industries — essentially anywhere a business unit requires flexibility and frequent product versions. A recent study by the Scrum Alliance revealed that 36 percent of organizations with active Scrum projects use agile methodology outside of their IT departments.
That’s because “development” isn’t just about software. Almost any end-product — whether it’s a program, idea, piece of content, or physical item — requires a structured, but adaptable development process. Here are some reasons why agile methodology is a good fit for software developers and non-IT teams alike:
– It’s simple: A key tenet of agile is the art of maximizing the amount of work not Agile can eliminate waste, inefficient workflows, and unnecessary overhead. It also tends to discourage multi-tasking (which has been shown in recent studies as detrimental to productivity and harmful to the brain).
– It’s flexible: Working in short iterations with continuous integration as a priority allows teams to respond to changing customer requirements, easily incorporating new requests into project design. The “customer” in some cases can also be a collective market environment.
– It’s more productive: A 2013 State of Agile report noted that 73 percent of developers say that agile helps them complete projects faster, and 87 percent say it increases their productivity. That’s because it cuts out gratuitous bureaucracy and focuses on more immediate, high-quality results.
Why it Works For Us.
Agile answers one of the most conspicuous questions in business strategy: How do you maintain disciplined execution without killing innovation? The answer is not Agile, as it might be written in some handbook, but instead Agile as a workplace culture.
At TechnologyAdvice, we pride ourselves on being self-directed, but still highly collaborative. Experimental, yet still data-driven. We value results over process, which means our team members make their own schedules outside of core hours and enjoy unlimited vacation and sick days. We value adaptability, which is why we do A/B testing and constantly reevaluate our design and content strategies. Our leaders know their jobs are to remove impediments and equip their teams for success. All of these elements are part of a collective agile mindset.
We also use agile planning in several areas outside of development, such as marketing. Our marketing team uses a combination of scrum and kanban project management, working in six-week sprints and managing task flows with a visual kanban board.
Agile methodology is certainly not for every organization or every project. If the requirements and results are predefined, sometimes a more traditional “waterfall” approach is best. But if you’re dealing with projects and products that are dynamic and accountable to customers, agile can help you achieve faster results with less waste. The results can have a profound impact on the health of your team and your company as a whole.
Rob Bellenfant is a millennial entrepreneur and investor specializing in IT, sales, marketing, and talent development. He is the founder and CEO ofTechnologyAdvice, a Nashville, Tenn.-based Inc. 5000 company that is dedicated to educating, advising, and connecting buyers and sellers of business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.