Agile Methodology: What Is It and How Can Your Organization Benefit From It?

Agile Methodology

As a project management methodology, Agile offers a flexible approach, which allows for swift and efficient response to constantly changing requirements. Unlike other, more rigid methodologies (e.g., Waterfall), Agile puts the emphasis on constant improvement of the development process. 

To accomplish that, Agile project management breaks down the project into short developmental cycles called “sprints”. That is crucial for software development, where you don’t have the luxury of creating an entire product over several months, and then testing it and ironing out hundreds of flaws. 

Instead, Agile allows you to focus on smaller segments of the project, one at a time. That allows an Agile team to develop and test features in four-week cycles. In other words, the key lies in consistently delivering value to customers, as well as being able to embrace changes in the development process, regardless of the development stage the project is in.

The Agile methodology dates back to 2001 when 17 bright software developers sought to enhance lightweight software development and created what we now know as the Agile Manifesto. Their vision was to help streamline software development processes by focusing on individuals and interaction, rather than stringent adherence to processes. 

Today, nearly two decades later, Agile is one of the preferred project management methodologies in the IT sector. However, an Agile approach can also work wonders for a variety of other projects. 

So, how will you know if Agile is a suitable project management methodology for your company? Well, let’s take a look at precisely what Agile brings to the table and what its benefits and drawbacks are so that you can make an informed decision.

The Core Values of the Agile Methodology

In essence, what Agile seeks to do is facilitate product development by shifting the value from rigid, documentation-oriented processes to interaction and collaboration. As stated in the Manifesto, it was created with the purpose of “uncovering better ways of developing software.” To that end, Agile as a concept has the following four values as its foundation:

  • Individuals and their interactions take precedence over process and tools,
  • Developing functional, working software rather than spending precious work hours on excessive documentation,
  • Regular customer collaboration over contract negotiation,
  • Flexibility, adaptability, and embracing change over following a rigid plan.

However, that’s not to say that documentation, planning, processes, and tools don’t have a role in Agile. It merely means that Agile values other aspects of software development even more.

Principles at the Core of Agile

When applied in practice, Agile rests on 12 core principles: 

  1. Customer satisfaction through continuous delivery of valuable software — The project is divided into smaller cycles, with the focus on developing highest-value features first.
  2. Welcoming the ever-changing requirements — Adaptability is one of the key strengths of Agile. Being able to tweak the software and embrace changes in all stages of development boosts customer satisfaction and provides them with an advantage over their competitors.
  3. Frequent delivery of working software — The aim is to deliver functional software every couple of weeks or months, depending on the scale and complexity of the project.
  4. Daily interaction and collaboration between stakeholders and developers — Rather than being clogged by emails and other documentation, or attending daily meetings, Agile puts effective communication at the forefront.
  5. The highlight is on motivated individuals — To achieve the best results possible, project managers must create a pleasant environment and provide their team members with the necessary support. That will stimulate better performance and ensure the projects get done on time.
  6. Face-to-face conversations are the best way to convey information — This ensures that the correct information always gets to the right team member.
  7. Working software is the most appropriate way to measure progress — Developing features one at a time is the best way to track progress.
  8. Agile processes must support sustainable development — Everyone involved in the project needs to be able to keep a steady pace.
  9. Good design, technical excellence, and attention to detail greatly boost agility — Project teams need to be detail-oriented.
  10. Simplicity — Eliminating unnecessary complexity and coming up with simple, yet effective solutions is vital.
  11. Autonomy — Self-organizing teams typically produce the best software architectures and designs.
  12. Self-reflection — The team must regularly reflect on their performance and develop new ways of streamlining the work and boosting effectiveness.

Key Skills for Adopting Agile

Given the principles the Agile methodology is built upon, as well as what it aims to accomplish, not every organization is prepared to adopt it. 

As we’ve mentioned, Agile aims to efficiently respond to frequent requirement changes, which typically involves coming up with effective solutions on the spot. That makes it impossible to devise an overarching plan in advance, which would see it from inception to completion.

Effectively implementing Agile calls for a project manager with a unique set of skills and organizational abilities. Here are the essential skills every Agile project manager must have:

  • Ability to streamline workflows and eliminate redundant or unnecessary work.
  • Excellent judgment, even under pressure, or while facing tight deadlines. The ability to remain calm and focused under stress is also essential.
  • Strong interpersonal, communicational, and leadership skills. The project manager must be able to coach, guide, and support their development teams throughout the project.
  • Outstanding organizational abilities. With rapid changes being a constant, it’s vital to prioritize and ensure each team member knows what they need to be working on exactly.
  • Quick thinking and sound decision making. Constant requirement changes bring forth new challenges regularly. To maintain the pace, the project manager must be capable of making swift decisions and quickly coming up with effective solutions.
  • Adaptability and willingness to embrace change. Adapting to new situations and being able to shift directions almost instantly helps reduce confusion, lowers the risk, and keeps the project moving forward.

Advantages of the Agile Methodology

Although Agile was initially developed as a method of improving and streamlining software development, organizations from other industries have started adopting it after migrating to a digital workspace. That is mainly due to the increased flexibility and productivity Agile provides, allowing companies to leverage the digital workspace to deliver services and high-quality products regularly. 

Furthermore, sprint planning promotes higher levels of stakeholder interaction, ultimately leading to increased satisfaction. Some of the most significant benefits of Agile project management include: 

  • Increased flexibility and the ability to quickly adapt to changes in the development process,
  • Improved productivity through prioritization and focused effort,
  • Reduced risk and efficient issues detection through regular testing,
  • Reduced project cost,
  • Improved team morale,
  • Streamlined development processes,
  • Improved quality of deliverables,
  • Improved performance through better collaboration and efficient communication,
  • Faster deployment of effective solutions.

Potential Drawbacks of Agile Project Management

Although Agile offers many benefits, it does have a few drawbacks as well. As you would expect, Agile isn’t a perfect fit for every project. Depending on the nature of the project, it’s always best to identify the methodology that will yield the best results. 

Agile falls short when the client is unclear about their goals or when either the project manager or the development team lacks the necessary experience. Furthermore, if the key players employed on the project are unable to perform under pressure, Agile might not be the best option. 

There’s one more thing to consider before deciding to adopt Agile. Although flexibility and informality are its strongest suits, they can also represent an obstacle many traditional organizations cannot overcome. 

Larger organizations with strict and rigid policies might find it difficult to operate in this environment. Likewise, you may struggle to make Agile work if your clients/customers have rigid processes in place and stick to inflexible operating methods.

Stumbling Blocks in Adopting Agile

Companies looking to make the switch to the Agile methodology commonly run into several stumbling blocks:

  • The company structure and culture do not support Agile. To make Agile work, every actor must be on board. That includes stakeholders, executives, and functional leaders. Likewise, everyone needs to be clear on what Agile implies, and be willing to shift to a new work dynamic.
  • Lack of understanding regarding the impact of projects on the overall business goals. It is not enough to simply execute projects using Agile methodology. They must be executed in a way that provides the business as a whole with results that stimulate sustainable growth. Therefore, strategic alignment still plays a critical role.
  • Rushing testing cycles to meet the deadlines. The idea behind “sprints” is to provide clients with high-quality deliverables regularly. To complete each “sprint” as fast as possible and stay within the timeline, organizations often rush the testing cycles. That typically results in overseeing minor flaws and defects or detecting them too late.
  • Inexperience with Agile.

Despite Agile growing in popularity in recent years, finding technical experts with sufficient Agile experience can prove rather difficult. Before making the transition, leadership must teach the tech team Agile through exercises, assignments, and live training. There are also plenty of excellent online Agile courses and certifications that you definitely want to look into.

Agile Adoption Rates

As we’ve mentioned, Agile was initially developed for the IT industry. However, over time, organizations from various other sectors have recognized and started reaping the benefits of this highly collaborative, efficient approach to project management. 

Here’s a table taken from Verison One’s The 13th Annual State of Agile Report, which sheds light on Agile adoption rates across leading industries: 

Agile Adoption Rates

The main reasons why companies opt to go Agile are still accelerating software delivery and managing changing priorities. That said, compared to the previous report, the focus seems to have shifted from increasing productivity to improving team morale. Additionally, in recent years, companies seem to favor cost reduction over reducing project risk.

Popular Agile Frameworks and Methodologies

Since Agile’s inception, organizations have attempted to fine-tune this methodology and come up with frameworks that best suit their needs. As a result, companies now have over a dozen different Agile frameworks to choose from:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Extreme Programming (XP)
  • Lean
  • Crystal
  • Crystal Clear Methods
  • Dynamic System Development Model (DSDM)
  • Agile Unified Process (AUP)
  • Adaptive Software Development (ASD)
  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD)
  • Disciplined Agile Delivery
  • Scrumban
  • Rapid Application Development (RAD)

Scrum and Scrum/XP hybrid remain the two most widely spread agile methodologies, according to 64% of the report’s responders. 

Scrum in Agile

As a framework, Scrum emphasizes teamwork. Apart from utilizing two to four-week “sprints,” Scrum also involves short, 15-minute daily meetings (scrums). The idea behind the meetings is to review the wins and losses from the previous day, reflect on them, and learn from them to improve continually.

Instead of the traditional project manager role, this framework employs the role of a Scrum Master. He meets with the team daily to evaluate progress, eliminate any obstacles, and help increase the self-managing team’s productivity. 

Other key roles in Scrum include the Product Owner, in charge of creating a product backlog, and the Scrum team members. The team utilizes a board for task management, i.e. to create and keep track of several lists of tasks. Each task is assigned to an individual within the team and is inspected for quality after completion. 

Scrum/XP Hybrid

Different Agile frameworks and methodologies follow the same Agile principles and values. Therefore, it’s no wonder organizations started combining them and creating hybrids to get the most out of Agile project management.

One such hybrid merges Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP). That is mainly because the two complement each other rather well. It’s important to understand that Scrum is a framework. That is, it provides the work backlog and the processes and defines which features the team should develop. However, what it doesn’t do is specify which engineering practices the development team will apply. 

In other words, Scrum is a framework, whereas XP is an engineering methodology. They both approach Agile from different perspectives and tackle different problems. So, it’s no surprise that Scrum teams commonly leverage XP practices such as Pair Programming, TDD, Continuous Integration, and so on. 

Furthermore, XP adds a bit more flexibility to the Scrum framework. Namely, with Scrum, the Product Owner decides what the team will be working on. With the Scrum/XP hybrid, the client is more involved in the development process. The sprints are also shorter and are typically one to two-weeks long. 

Additionally, Scrum doesn’t allow any changes to the backlog after sprint planning. In contrast, XP does allow the client to substitute a feature for another of equal size, provided the team hasn’t started work on it yet. 

The Future of the Agile Methodology

As businesses transition to a digital workspace, speed of delivery, flexibility, and higher productivity Agile offers are becoming a necessity. Speed to market and the ability to consistently provide clients with quality deliverables is what enables organizations to grow and beat out the competition. 

Furthermore, Agile increases customer satisfaction, improves team collaboration, and allows organizations to persevere in a fast-changing business climate. In hindsight, Agile offers a myriad of benefits and has limited drawbacks. 

As we’ve seen from Verison One’s report, Agile adoption rates are steadily increasing across various industries. The success of organizations that have shifted to Agile strongly suggests that this trend will continue in the future. 

So, if you’re looking to increase productivity, improve project predictability, cut down the costs, and deliver quality products on time — the shift to Agile is in order. 

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