In recent years, the Agile methodology has moved from being next practice to best practice for IT professionals. Within the UK, it is being widely adopted by government departments as well as large businesses such as BA, Maersk Line and HP. Within our own organisation, we have also seen a growth in interest, with our Agile Methods Specialist Group achieving over 1,000 members in just over 12 months. This is due to Agile’s wide appeal to those working on business transformation and its outcome-based approach.
So what is Agile? Agile project management gives organisations a range of flexibility and a better relationship between the business and technology. It was born out of the need for software development to keep pace with the business necessity and changing circumstances. There are a number of variations of the Agile method including SCRUM, Kanban and Lean. It can save time, money and resources for an organisation and, with the right leadership, can transform the success of a business. Essentially, it involves a modular approach to project development, with a number of short iterations of the various stages. If things go wrong the teams can learn from the problems, experiment, try again and learn what does work, adapting their plans as they work towards implementation. It contrasts with the more traditional approach in which specifications are laid down early in the project and the team concentrates on fulfilling these, with testing at the end of the development and limited flexibility to respond to unforeseen difficulties.
Agile is nothing new; the Agile manifesto being signed in 2001. However, recently there has been a surge in Agile adoption, with organisations of all sizes seeing real benefit in the methodology. I will not pretend that implementation of this approach is easy, but from what I’ve seen the most successful projects are those where the Agile mindset is adopted by the whole business. To effectively implement a flexible outcome method within an IT team you need to ensure the rest of the organisation is not hindered by antiquated, process-driven systems. Ensuring that Agile pervades into every department will mean the CIO can get on and realise what their team sets out to achieve. For many, the use of Agile can be more motivating as all the team understand the end goal and have a clear vision of where a project is heading. This also means that when a project is not working effectively, it can be picked up earlier and eventually prevent much wasted time and resources. Evidently, this is beneficial for everyone in an organisation.
Agile teams are often multi-discipline. Although there are those within IT who specialise in Agile project-management, for the most part the Agile methodology is a skillset that many have developed to benefit their everyday role. Because of this, it is important that teams demonstrate a certain level of knowledge and understanding when starting out on an Agile project. There are many ways to achieve this depending on the need of the individuals and team – from training, certification, collective discussion and networking events. Previously, I have discussed the importance of ‘softer’ skills amongst IT professionals. This is even more crucial for those working on Agile projects as communication, client interpretation and openness is the key to success.