What is Agile?
Simply put, Agile development is an iterative approach to solution architecture based on collaboration. Rather than making broad stroke assumptions early on that navigate the entire project, the team rolls out short-duration, controlled pieces based upon a consensus on the priority of and effort involved in creating the minimum viable product (MVP). It’s a cyclical process that lends to constant refinement and improvement by continually prioritizing needs and managing resources.
The Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) process is not unique to Agile development. My 5th grade math teacher used to say to me, quite often in fact, “the carpenter kept cutting, but the wood was still too short.” At the time, this statement often left me looking at him with my head tilted and him with his face in his palm. But, some years later, I see that if we constrain ourselves to sticking to what we thought was right at the time based upon the information and environment that existed at a point in the receding past, then we’ll all be sitting around a pile of wood scrap instead of a new deck. Life changes, and so do needs, people, resources, budgets and deadlines.
Using a PDCA approach builds evaluation into the process allowing each action to be a well thought out response to the last action.
The only constant is change. George Carlin once said, “just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.” No one likes surprises that lead to delays, added cost, or reduced features or functionality, but they are sometimes unavoidable. The bottom line is that, regardless of the hurdles, the team still needs to develop an MVP. The Agile process employs relatively short “sprints” of development.
Each sprint’s deliverables are outlined and defined before it begins based upon the information that exists at that time, which, importantly, reflects fully what has become clear during the last sprint. When the team works together in short sprints, they accept and anticipate that yesterday’s unknowns may become tomorrow’s hurdles. Technical obstacles are discovered, business priorities change, and resources may fluctuate. All of these realities are easily managed when the team regroups, reevaluates and reprioritizes at the end of each sprint.
Who doesn’t remember the 2002 Patriots vs Rams Super Bowl when the Patriots chose to be introduced as a team? That was the kick‑off moment for one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history, the Patriots’ first ring, and headlines across the nations: “The Silence of the Rams.” And guess what, now everyone does it. Why? Because working together leads to better results.
The Agile approach is the true essence of partnership. The team is more than just the people who are building the product for the client, it’s a collaboration of everyone who has a vested interest in the outcome of the project including the client. With everyone around the table bringing their insight, perspective and expertise, the collective team is able to more effectively strategize and evaluate the next steps as the project evolves in manner that is fully consistent with the client’s objectives.
For example, if the team is building a shopping cart on a website, there’s a myriad of features to be brainstormed, including such items as customer account login, single‑page checkout, ability to purchase with PayPal or Bill Me Later, promotional codes and coupons, and shipping options. The list goes on and on. In Agile collaboration, developers will better understand and address the business priorities of the client, and the client understands the development priorities and differences in effort to implement the various options before them. Together, the team makes decisions with all of the information available as it is obtained and rolls out a clean win.
Long Term Success
Even with the sprint approach, rolling out an evolving project that meets everyone’s needs requires consistent, patient attention from the team. With the right team and the right approach, we can identify the path to increased success and navigate the ever‑changing landscape.