What is Agile methodology and what does it have to do with being agile?

October 14, 2021 - 20 min read

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What is the Agile methodology?

What is the Agile manifesto?

What is Agile project management?

The Scrum framework

Why the Agile methodology is better

Most organizations talk about needing to be more agile. But do they mean agile with a small "a" or a big "A"?

Agile has become quite a buzzword. As have Scrum, Lean, and Kanban. 

If you’ve ever wondered what all these words mean, you’ve come to the right place. 

The Agile methodology is an approach to project management. It’s not a single method but a collection of best practices that involve constant collaboration

Agile methods focus on the ability of a team to be flexible and adaptive to change. Agile encourages team members to identify uncertainties in their projects and figure out how best to adapt to challenges.

The Agile methodology is most associated with software development projects. But it can be applied to any industry, project, or position. Agile techniques can give greater control to team members and increased responsiveness and efficiency to projects.

But does your business need Agile methodology or just to be more agile? 

Here’s all there is to know about the Agile methodology and why it works for some teams.

What is the Agile methodology?

To understand the Agile methodology, we need to look at its history.

The Agile methodology was developed just after the turn of the millennium. Its development was in response to older software development methodologies that failed to meet the increasing demands of the software industry.

Until the early 2000s, software companies followed a standard approach to product development. A set timeframe was established, and the various phases of progress were split into sequential chunks. This timeline could span anywhere between three to five years, depending on the complexity and scale of the project. 

This way of doing things brought an element of structure and comfort to the process. But it soon proved to be too rigid and slow. It couldn’t keep up with: 

  • The growth in technological advancement
  • The needs of clients and the end-user

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Without a creative solution, this problem would soon spell disaster for the software industry. Requested products were becoming obsolete before companies could even deploy them. Businesses were wasting millions of dollars on projects that never saw the light of day.

Because of this, a group of industry leaders came together to rethink the principles of the industry. They recognized the need for a heavier focus on: 

These industry leaders shared a vision of a process and strategic planning that prioritized results over structure. And one that featured a more humanistic set of guiding values.

Eventually, this led to the establishment of the Agile manifesto. The Agile manifesto is a comprehensive document outlining the core values and principles of the Agile methodology.

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What is the Agile manifesto?

The Agile manifesto is a document that sets out the key values and principles behind the Agile methodology. It was developed in 2001 by a small group of collaborators who named themselves the Agile Alliance.

Its aim was to guide the software industry to more effective methods of development. 

4 values of Agile 

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

By examining the values of Agile, it’s easy to see what kind of barriers the creators were trying to remove. 

They envisioned a more open, collaborative process where plans didn’t have to be set in stone. And they sought to dissolve the strict boundaries between customers and software developers. 

The aim was to remove time-consuming bureaucratic obstacles and allow for more iterative product design.

12 principles of Agile

  1. Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery 
  2. Accommodation of changing requirements throughout the development process
  3. Frequent delivery of working software
  4. Collaboration between the business stakeholders and developers throughout the project
  5. Support, trust, and motivation for the people involved
  6. Face-to-face interactions
  7. Working software as the primary measure of progress
  8. Agile processes to support a consistent development pace
  9. Attention to technical detail and design enhances agility
  10. Simplicity
  11. Self-organizing teams that encourage great architectures, requirements, and designs
  12. Regular reflections on how to become more effective

The 12 principles of Agile expand on the core values. They give developers solid guidelines to use when facing professional dilemmas. 

Removing the secrecy between clients and developers was an incredibly effective tactical decision. It gave developers access to crucial feedback, helping to ensure their product was high-quality. It also allowed clients to play a more active role in the development and delivery of their products.

These values and principles are not exclusive to Agile software development. While they were originally created as a response to problems in the field, they can be applied to any industry. Almost any business with a client-centered product development life cycle can use the Agile methodology process.

A study was done into the efficacy of Agile methods. It suggests that using the Agile process has a positive impact on project success. It also improves efficiency and better satisfies customer needs.

The values and principles of Agile bring product development back to its roots. It reminds us that products should be designed by people, for people. And, it reminds us that we got to where we are now by adapting and improvising. Our creative potential flourishes when we’re given space to: 

  • Collaborate 
  • Think outside the box
  • Iterate
  • Reshuffle priorities

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The Agile methodology's success shows us that paperwork and protocol should not be the driving forces behind the creative process

Interaction, evaluation, and fluidity foster more motivating and exciting working conditions. People do their best work when their ideas and frustrations are acknowledged and integrated.

In an increasingly fast-paced and results-driven world, it no longer makes sense to rigidly define a target. The chances are that by the time you’ve taken your shot, the target will have moved or become something else entirely. 

Modern project managers across multiple sectors are aware of this. They are striving to emulate the vision put forth by Agile by: 

  • Starting broad 
  • Adapting to changes 
  • Integrating feedback 
  • Adjusting course as the vision becomes clearer 

Companies that have found success using Agile include LEGO, Barclays, and John Deere. These organizations faced problems such as: 

  • Extensive delays 
  • Missed deadlines 
  • Quality control issues 
  • Botched deliveries 

Through the gradual implementation of Agile methods, these issues began to resolve organically.

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What is Agile project management?

Based on the Agile methodology, six important deliverables in project management were established as a framework for success. These help project teams stay on task and measure progress. 

These deliverables aim to provide team members with clear priorities and an understanding of the various layers of the project. They offer a framework to apply creative and technical skills. And they offer a centralized overview of the journey between concept and product. 

Agile’s 6 deliverables 

Let’s walk through each of the six deliverables:

  1. Product vision statement: A concise declaration of the project’s aims. What the team hopes to achieve with the product.
  1. Product roadmap: An overarching outline of the product’s central goals, direction, methods, and priorities. The roadmap breaks the vision down into actionable tasks and achievable goals.
  2. Product backlog: Drawing on the product roadmap, the product backlog is a prioritized list of tasks yet to be achieved. The highest priority tasks appear at the top and then descend according to the level of urgency. 

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  1. Release plan: A timeline that outlines short-term release goals. Release plans are generally focused on small releases of functional product features and do not span longer than a handful of months. 
  1. Sprint backlog: Unlike the product backlog, a sprint backlog is an identifiable set of micro-tasks relating to a specific goal within the product roadmap. These are usually identified and tackled by the Scrum team (explained in more detail below).
  1. Increment: An actionable step that improves product functionality and takes the team closer to their eventual goal. Each increment must make sense in the larger context of the project. They must also act in congruence with prior increments and contribute to the overall usability of the product.

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Agile project management can be broken down further into a few approaches that have different purposes. These include Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, and Extreme Programming (XP).

Depending on the set goals, project managers decide which Agile approach is most suited to the development process. The team then uses this approach as a framework for their progress. 

The Scrum and Kanban approaches are the most widely used. Both rely on the Agile principles and values. But they differ in their structure and vocabulary. 

The Kanban approach depends on visualization. It focuses on coming up with a graphical representation of the development process using a Kanban board. Tasks are displayed according to whether they’ve been done, are being done, or are yet to be done. 

This development method helps predict and resolve bottlenecks before they have too much of an impact on progress. Kanban seeks to optimize workflow by grouping tasks and removing obstacles. 

Scrum is increasingly popular, with several major software companies using this approach. Scrum emphasizes Agile values while providing clear guidelines for understanding the development process.

The Scrum framework

The Scrum approach has three major defining characteristics. 

Unlike other Agile frameworks, Scrum emphasizes the roles and responsibilities of the development team. It also focuses on the events that make up the development process and the artifacts that track progress and organize tasks. 

Several tech giants have found success using Scrum, including Google, Spotify, Apple, and Airbnb. 

Scrum draws on the values and principles of the Agile process to put together a framework that guides and supports all team members. 

It pays specific attention to the management of: 

  • Tasks 
  • Timelines 
  • Personnel 

It creates a workflow where feedback is easily integrated and goals are discussed and agreed upon. The end product is developed through several iterations. With Scrum, all team members learn from their mistakes, and efficiency is maximized.

Scrum roles

Scrum has three roles: 

  • Product owner 
  • Development team 
  • Scrum master 

Together, these are known as the Scrum Team. Let's take a look at the responsibilities of each role.

Product owner

The product owner is responsible for the overarching vision of the product. They represent the interests of the customer and give insight into the conceptual understanding of the product. 

Product owners should communicate regularly with the rest of the Scrum team about how best to implement their vision. 

Development team

The development team is the group responsible for putting the product together. This team usually consists of: 

  • Designers 
  • Engineers 
  • Other practical professionals 

These employees are capable of executing the vision on a technical level.

Scrum master

The Scrum master coordinates the development team by making sure they adhere to Agile methodology. They keep team members focused by helping to get rid of persistent obstacles. They also: 

  • Eliminate distractions 
  • Organize priorities
  • Provide general support 

Scrum events 

The Agile Scrum framework includes several time-specific events, called timeboxes. But who attends what event in Scrum and what happens in each event?

Let's take a look.

Sprint

A sprint is a defined period of time wherein a short-term goal is set and achieved by the team. A sprint does not typically run for more than a month and two weeks is the norm. Sprints intend to facilitate rapid and focused progress. 

Sprint planning

This session includes everyone involved in the Scrum process. In this session, the details of a sprint are discussed and agreed upon. This happens every time a new sprint begins. It ensures that there is proper planning and consensus.

Daily Scrum

Daily scrums are small, quick meetings that include key members of the Scrum team. The team discusses progress from the day before and agrees on goals for the following day. These meetings happen at the same time every day and usually run between 10-20 minutes.

These meetings are sometimes referred to as the “Daily Standup.” In these cases, participants stand for the whole meeting. This helps remind them that the meeting should be short and efficient.

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Sprint review

The sprint review is the counterpart to the sprint planning session. It happens at the end of each sprint. 

Sprint reviews give the developers a chance to present their progress to the client and other invested parties. These stakeholders then provide feedback which is used to plan the next sprint. 

Sprint retrospective (or retro)

Once the previous sprint is completed, the Scrum team comes together to discuss the highs and lows of the process. This is not about the project metrics but instead about how effectively they worked as a team. Then, they try to carry over these insights into the next sprint. 

Scrum artifacts

Scrum artifacts give the Scrum team and stakeholders insight into the performance of a sprint.

These essential tools include:

Product backlog

The product backlog is a prioritized list of features needed to reach established goals for the product. It is essentially a to-do list. 

The product owner typically oversees the product backlog within the Agile Scrum dynamic. 

This list can include:

  • Roadblocks or problems that need fixing
  • Features that need implementing
  • Required improvements

Sprint backlog

The sprint backlog focuses on tasks that fall within the current sprint.

It is usually accessible to all team members so they can track important tasks. A sprint backlog is often made up of three columns that specify whether a task is: 

  • Complete 
  • In progress 
  • Not yet started 

Why the Agile methodology is better

Older project management methods are products of their respective times. They worked up to a point.

Nowadays, product development needs to be able to change according to the evolving needs of the client. Modern businesses need a framework that allows for a more flexible and iterative workflow. A framework that prioritizes teamwork, communication, and continuous improvement.

Agile practices use broad targets and short-term goals. They also focus on the importance of continuous integration and feedback. This gives development teams more room to adapt, revise, and improve as the product goes from concept to reality.

The Agile methodology serves the needs of contemporary product development. Both big and small teams can use this methodology in their project plans. 

Need help managing a productive team? Get in touch with a BetterUp coach and explore whether your business can benefit from the Agile methodology.

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Published October 14, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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