As the business world continues its shift towards an increasingly digital presence, companies are working diligently in the department of change management to find the structure that best fits their business needs. In many companies today, the technology side of the business is still very separate from the revenue and strategy components. However, as time progresses and this digital drive continues, I believe businesses will soon come to learn the value of the methodologies used in technology development and how these methodologies could actually benefit their revenue and strategy focused counterparts.
What is Agile?
Agile is a software development strategy that utilizes cross-functional teams in collaboration with key stake holders to iteratively design, implement, and adapt technologies flexibly to meet business demands. Now that’s a fully loaded definition so let’s break it down based on the SCRUM agile development methodology. In SCRUM there are three types of contributors: the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team.
The product owner is the key stakeholder from the business side who has an idea of exactly what the business needs in terms of technology. The product owner works closely with the scrum master to make sure that their desired functionalities are implemented in a timely fashion.
The scrum master is coordinator of every person on the project. They keep track of who on the development team is working on what, and focuses on helping the various teams communicate between each other. Scrum masters report the project’s status directly to the product owner, making them the development lead, directly responsible for the success of the project
The development teams are the worker ants in the grand scheme of things. They are broken up into teams based on competencies. For example, one team could be focused on the design of an application’s front end, while another team may be focused on actually implementing the functionality of the design team’s features. However, there can be even more development teams depending on the complexity of the project, making the scrum master’s role a critical one.
The development process begins with the product owner creating a vision for what they want their end product to accomplish both in functionality and design. The scrum master then works with the teams to break down the product owner’s vision into “user stories”, which are chunks of work which can be easily accomplished in a short period of time called a “sprint” ranging in length from 5-10 days. Every day, the scrum master leads a daily stand up call in which the members of the development teams give updates on the progress of the user stories they are working on during each sprint. At the end of the sprint, an update to the project is then pushed out to the product owner for review and approval. This process is continually repeated until all of the user stories are completed and the product owner’s vision is complete.
The Agile Business Case
Agile development methodologies have enormous potential for success in a regular business setting outside of technology development. Agile solves a lot of problems present in a regular business setting like diffusion of responsibility, missed deadlines, poor communication, and accountability.
The current hierarchical managerial system present in today’s businesses seems to have many loopholes that some have learned to exploit too well. Different departments blame on another for holding them back from completing a milestone. Managers invest resources out of alignment with the company’s needs, unchecked unless investigated by higher ups. Expectations of colleagues and different departments often does not equal reality on the delivery date. Worst of all, when a project fails or falls behind, it’s often difficult to figure out who went wrong, where, and when, meaning no learning can be done to improve performance on future initiatives.
Agile methodologies solve all of these problems by proposing a new organizational structure with communication and participation at its core. The scrum master keeps track of all resources tasked to an initiative regardless of department, effectively destroying organizational silos. Daily stand up calls enable higher ups to keep tabs on the progress of the project and prevent deviations, ensuring that expectations become a reality by keeping individuals in check. Sprints enable managers and product owners to actively track the velocity of their initiative based on the completion of short term tasks their contributions towards to the success of the long term goal. Sprints also enable bottle necks to be identified early on, allowing appropriate resources to be reallocated to keep things on track.
After witnessing firsthand the well-oiled execution machine agile methodologies create in the technology sphere, I believe undoubtedly these methodologies can achieve the same great success in a normal business capacity through increased communication and accountability combined with short-term goals. Agile methodologies are great for breaking the information and execution silos that impede businesses today from accomplishing long term goals in an organized fashion. Agile holds the key to organizational success in the future of business, not just technology.
What are your thoughts? How could you see agile being used in your workplace?