What is Agile – The Basics

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What is Agile – The Basics 

In February of 2001 at the Snowbird Ski Resort, seventeen software developers convened to discuss frustrations they had with typical software development frameworks and sought to come to some sort of consensus on a better way to handle the development life cycle moving forward. While there was much disagreement on the specifics, all attendees agreed on a few key statements that make up the core of the Agile Manifesto, which includes: 

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools 

Working software over comprehensive documentation 

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 

Responding to change over following a plan 

These are the guiding principles behind Agile, a development framework that emphasizes individual empowerment, early deployment of working software, coordination with customers, and adaptability to changing customer needs and market conditions. In a business landscape where more and more people are recognizing the value of employees as individuals, where users demand a constant stream of updates, where stakeholder needs change, and where any number of world events can turn established business practices on their heads, Agile is more relevant than ever.  

So, let’s look at each of these 4 main points of the manifesto and discuss why they matter for every organization today. 

Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools 

While more traditional productivity frameworks rely on ridged processes to drive towards a goal, Agile sees people as the true engine of progress. Agile places greater responsibility on teams to learn about each one of their members’ strengths, weaknesses, capacity, and how they interact and work together as a group. From there, working alongside the business owners and stakeholders, those teams have the freedom to prioritize and commit to whatever work they find will best produce value for the business. 

This ongoing process of inter-team interactions and self-driven learning empowers developers to understand themselves and work together to accomplish far more than they otherwise would. 

Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation 

Another aspect of Agile that sets it apart from other frameworks is the emphasis on producing working features as early and often as possible. Rather than spending long periods of time documenting planned features waiting until nearly the end of development to demonstrate any tangible value, Agile encourages its developers to begin working on features early and to demo new ones to stakeholders on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. 

The main advantage that this approach offers is the constant generation of value for the business. Within the Agile framework, developers don’t wait for every part of a project to be planned out before producing value. Users and stakeholders have a working product far sooner than they would otherwise and the business can see a return on their investment almost immediately. As the project goes on and more features are produced and implemented, users watch the product evolve to better suit their needs and stakeholders see their dollars at work throughout the development life-cycle.  

Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation 

As we just discussed, Agile emphasizes putting tangible results into the hands of stakeholders right away and opens up a line of regular communication between developers and customers. This communication facilitates collaboration as they steer the ever-evolving product towards the best possible outcome for the customer. 

In Agile, developers receive feedback on their work directly from their customers, far sooner and with more regularity than they would otherwise. They are able to take this feedback and learn how they can improve the product going forward.  

This mindset of collaboration stems from the reality that the needs of a business and the scale of a solution both change over time. Rather than tying up all parties a straight-jacket of a plan, Agile encourages working together to prioritize producing maximum value for every party. 

Responding to Change Over Following a Plan 

Finally, perhaps the strongest feature that the Agile framework offers is an unparalleled level of adaptability to the needs of the stakeholders and the market at large. As the last few years have proven over and over again, any single event can upend the status quo almost overnight. Add on top of that the constantly changing demands of the market and it becomes clear that the only viable solutions are flexible solutions. 

This last part of the manifesto represents the culmination of Agile’s emphasis on individuals, working software, and customer collaboration. All of these contribute to the flexibility that Agile offers.  

Rather than work off of a fixed agenda of features determined at the beginning of a project, Agile has teams working off of a flexible backlog of potential features or “stories.” This backlog is constantly being refined based on feedback that the teams receive from the project stakeholders. This refinement might involve changing the priority order of stories in the backlog, removing stories that are now obsolete, and adding new stories that would produce more value. 

Getting Started with the Basics 

In today’s business landscape, Agile continues to prove itself relevant, with its emphasis on individuals and interactions, working software, collaborating with customers, and responding to change. As a result, more and more companies are realizing that now is the time to make a switch and undergo an Agile Transformation. If it sounds like your organization could benefit from Agile, there are a number of companies, such as EIT, that exist to help you navigate the transition. Once you find a company to see you through the transition, here’s a few things to keep in mind: 

  1. Agile is a toolbox, not a mallet. Over the years since the manifesto was initially signed, several variations on Agile have spawned, each with their own methods for achieving the ideals in the manifesto. Everyone in the Agile world has opinions on which of these variations is the best, and it’s common to hear things like, “if you’re not doing _______, you’re not really doing Agile.” As the manifesto says, however, it’s not about trying to make yourself fit a particular process or tool. Work with your consulting partner to adopt Agile along with any tools that are a good fit for you. 
  2. Agile is about learning and improving as you go. For many organizations, the first steps of an Agile transformation can feel awkward and disorienting as employees and management alike try to adjust their mindsets and habits. Don’t be discouraged at this stage but embrace the fact that you’re moving in the right direction and learning how to make Agile work for you as you go. 

If you’re interested in adopting Agile, EIT is committed to making Agile work for you and helping your company confidently move forward, every step of the way. For more information, consider attending one of our upcoming trainings