Rugby player going high for the ball with help from teammates.
Adopting agile development methodologies requires teamwork, commitment and support. PHOTO: chuttersnap on UnsplashGerd Altmann

In an increasingly customer-centric market, keeping your customers happy is the most effective way to see your market reach grow and revenues soar. To do this, you must be able to swiftly respond to changing customer expectations with new and improved products or services. This fundamental change in business demand underscores the increased adoption of agile methodologies.

Agile development methodologies replace traditional software development models that take months or even years to deliver results and place the focus directly on the customer — offering faster, incremental value within shorter time frames. 

Agile methodologies including scrum, kanban and lean follow this philosophy as they break down the software development process into smaller iterations of one to four weeks. With the agile approach, software teams can implement changes on the go based on constant customer feedback, which significantly improves collaboration and customer satisfaction.

If you take a broad look at organizations across sectors, you will see glimpses of agile taking shape. 

Saab is said to be using agile to produce fighter jets, while John Deere, the farm equipment company, is reportedly using agile to develop new machines. There are other examples of companies successfully deploying agile in sectors spanning manufacturing to marketing. Agile holds tremendous value in driving transformations to enable organizations to match the pace of fast-changing market scenarios. However, if not planned and executed carefully, agile projects can fail to deliver value.

Do You Really Understand Agile? 

Successful agile transformation is dependent on an organization’s ability to understand that agile methodologies aren’t a set of superficial changes made to an existing software development process. There could be instances where organizations claim they are using agile, but with no significant value. Consequently, understanding the context of agile implementation and how it will change an organization’s way of working beyond the software development process to impact different functions is often the key to achieving success with these initiatives.

The agile approach also brings new demands on the execution side, including greater collaboration among stakeholders and teams, clearly defined objectives, high levels of employee engagement, and self-directed and motivated teams that can work without supervision. 

To extract more value from this software development process, let's dive deeper into the complexities of agile implementation and outline key considerations and best practices. 

Embracing Change

Because agile transformation involves mindset shifts, communicating the need for change — as well as the expectations and benefits of agile — should be a starting point in overcoming resistance early on. An effective feedback mechanism can also offer useful inputs to reduce friction and maximize buy-in.

Expect to provide continuous mentoring and coaching at different stages of transformation, especially until new agile teams reach their optimum performance. Coaching should help educate teams on the common goals and objectives, roles and responsibilities, and rules and practices. This must be supported with course correction and guidance.

Agile embodies cultural change

Agile is a revolutionary change that impacts not just the IT process, but also the whole organization. Businesses must be able to create a balanced ecosystem that combines new values, mindsets, processes and organizational designs that support agile transformation.  

Leadership support

Agile is successful when there is top-down intent and bottom-up implementation. Management and senior leaders who demonstrate support for agile adoption can be great sources of encouragement for individuals and teams involved in these projects. It is important to establish the strategic value of agile projects and frequently reinforce it. Leaders can pave the way for agile adoption by enabling self-empowerment and motivation in their teams, and by introducing other initiatives like rewards and recognition programs, agile coaching, and workshops on a periodic basis.

Self-organized teams

Agile marks a major change from command-and-control structures. Project teams are cross-functional groups that must be well-engaged and informed to take ownership and be self-organized. This requires broad leadership vision to guide team efforts. Leaders must be able to communicate objectives while not getting trapped in day-to-day minutia. One strategy that usually works is breaking large teams into smaller teams that can collaborate more effectively.

While enforcing strict mandates might not work with agile teams, an element of discipline is necessary to meet goals. As in the case of scrum teams, the scrum master, who is closest to the team on a day-to-day basis, can play a major role in enabling an environment conducive for teams to be self-organized and capable of developing a continuous improvement culture.

Agile Is About Business and Technology

More than anything, agile reflects a different way of working and can’t succeed unless all parts of an organization are in sync. If one part of the company does agile and the rest of it sticks to policy-driven practices, the benefits will likely be diminished. The transition may not happen overnight, and teams can certainly not be built with one-liner mandates. This requires continuous efforts to develop and nurture an agile ecosystem that supports quick changes, as well as leadership that builds trust among teams about the value agile delivers.