First, What is Agile?
Agile is considered an alternative approach to traditional project management or product development. It can be summarized as a value-based, iterative approach under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams. Agile advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change. Success in Agile is based on an attitude of “servant leadership” and focuses on the entire team, both Business and IT, not just developers. As teams work to solve large, complex problems, teams must “be(come)” Agile and not just “do” Agile.
Though it arose out of software development practices, Agile is not just a software-development framework. It is neither methodological nor prescriptive; there is no exact way to become Agile. There are best practices and popular approaches, particularly Scrum. However, Agile is not synonymous with Scrum (or Kanban, TDD, etc.) or even a specific tool (i.e. JIRA, Rally, etc.). The overall goal of Agile is to encourage collaboration, accountability and ownership across the team, and provide transparency and visibility throughout the process.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Agile is more about transparent interactions than technology.
Working software over comprehensive documentation. Create something usable quickly to enable faster customer feedback.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Ensure customer buy-in between Business & IT, with marketable visibility.
Responding to change over following a plan. Leave room for emergent solutions and better respond to change.
While the Agile Manifesto lists the Agile Principles in full, they are best summarized as:
- Satisfy the customer
- Working software is the primary measure of progress
- Welcome changing requirements
- Promote sustainable development
- Deliver working software frequently
- Continuous attention to technical excellence
- Business people and developers must work together daily
- Maximize amount of work not done
- Build projects around motivated individuals
- Self-organizing teams
- Face-to-face conversation
- Reflect…and tune
Common Agile Terms
Some common Agile terms include:
- Iterations : duration; often used synonymously with Sprint; typically 2 week increments
- Epics : refers to a group of features; also a term used in the tool JIRA
- User Stories : requirement, or feature; referred to as “Story” in JIRA
- Vertical Slicing : “chunks” of related features
- MVP (or MMP) : Minimum Viable Product (or Minimum Marketable Product)
Additional terms can be found in our Glossary.
Benefits of an Agile Culture
Many other areas outside of Technology have found success in developing an Agile culture, including Manufacturing, Marketing, Legal, Customer Support, and more recently, Learning Design and Human Resources. The benefits of an Agile culture provide more customer-focused efforts, increase communication, enable change, improve quality of delivery, provide a more responsive environment, and increase both transparency and visibility.
The result, or the answer to “What’s in it for me?!” rather - is additional cost-savings and more informed spend; greater visibility with executive leadership; empowered, self-organized teams; work that is broken down into smaller, achievable increments; and shared responsibility between Business and IT.
In GSA IT, we are currently pursuing Agile adoption through the formation of Scrum pilot teams that support the Agile Investment process. “Agile Investment” is a phased approach to piloting potential solution investments that create a stronger partnership between the Business and IT; thereby increasing collaboration, providing faster solution delivery, increasing transparency, reducing risk, improving overall GSA IT investment spend, and increasing business value.
How Do We “Be”-come More Agile?
Agile adoption begins with a top-down approach; it must be fully supported by the entire organization. While it can be challenging, there are best practices that can serve as a guide throughout transition. As we develop an enterprise-wide strategy, we will continue to focus on project-level implementations through our Agile Investment approach.
Through Agile Investment, the CTO Office introduces business and development team members to Scrum (and Kanban). We coach pilot teams in developing agile processes, establishing working agreements for delivery, and in creating a supportive infrastructure with tools and standards that can be leveraged enterprise-wide.
Agile Behavior Adaptation
Here are just some of the ways we can support Agile adoption:
Stop the Jargon! Be informed & know the proper terminology to better support Agile adoption and reduce confusion.
Shift the Mindset Be open, flexible, responsive, & transparent in developing a more Agile mindset, but know that transition takes time and patience.
Change Management Be flexible as new processes are implemented, but call pain points and issues so that they can be addressed.
Communication Be a reliable source for & encourage open communication.
Accountability Be reliable & responsible to the Team and with assigned work.
Transparency Be honest & transparent with the Team and assigned work.
And finally, as we learn from each experience, we celebrate and share the success through “storytelling.” In GSA IT, our current successes include the OMB endorsement of Agile, the introduction of standards, and each Agile Investment project-level implementation. Moreover, the collaboration we continue to build between Business and IT leads to faster, more efficient product delivery and is a win towards Agile adoption!