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Is Agile a better way of working?

Is Agile a better way of working?

Recently, in working with clients and colleagues, I’ve have been exploring how Agile is impacting the way we do business. 

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Is Agile a better way of working?
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Is Agile a better way of working?



1. able to move quickly and easily.

2. relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterised by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

In my last blog, we explored Digital Transformation and what we understood it to mean. I find writing a blog post is a great way to reflect, and make sense of all the things going on over a period of months. As Steve Jobs put it “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”.

Recently, in working with clients and colleagues, I’ve have been exploring how Agile is impacting the way we do business. 

I had my first proper experience with Agile in 2008, when part of our team worked alongside Thoughtworks on a project. Thoughtworks have been leaders in Agile for a long time; even back then they had embraced the Agile manifesto in a pure form, and approached everything through the lens of Agile.

When the project was over, I recall thinking that this way of working was a higher art form than before. It required each member of the team on the project to contribute more to the success of the project. It devolved responsibility in a more democratic way, meaning the project manager was no longer held responsible for the success or failure of the project.

In the last decade we have used Agile, in various guises, on projects with clients; mainly on business applications where the customer had the option of customising the software or needed the system to support a business process. For many clients, it was their first direct experience of Agile. It can be a little daunting for them in this situation and so, we end up tailoring the approach and the ceremonies (like stand ups and retrospectives) to fit with the client culture. Scrum is an extremely popular form of Agile and is the main method we see clients either adopting or have adopted.

We also use a version of Kanban very successfully in house. We find it removes the sprint deadlines and offers more opportunity to continuously improve.

However, I have seen a new trend in the last 2-3 years where our clients are much more willing to embrace the pure form of Scrum than the likes of what Thoughtworks were practicing back in the noughties. They are more willing to change the way they work to an Agile way of operating .

Why are people moving more towards an Agile way of working?

Here are just some of the reasons:

  • Agile has gone mainstream
    Agile has made its way quietly into the mainstream without much fuss, and these days you will find many software development teams in Dublin using Scrum. People are more likely to have seen or worked with Agile, and have witnessed it working well.
  • The old way of doing things is not quite working anymore
    People are moving around in their roles, and organisations are changing business models and structures more often than before. I think it is riskier now making a major investment in IT systems today, as you are unlikely to get a five-year payback on that investment. Many companies got away with sweating IT assets over the past 10-15 years, but those days are well and truly over.
  • The advantages of Agile, done properly, can be significant
    The Agile approach allows us to focus firstly on the most valuable items in the business case. It connects the business teams with technology teams and operations teams and helps them all ‘jump together’ when making decisions about priorities, timeframes, and what gets delivered.
What impact is the rise of Agile having on roles within IT?

The traditional waterfall roles most impacted are Project Managers (PM) and Business Analysts (BA).

PM can sometimes be short for project messenger (I don’t mean that disrespectfully)! They chase one group for information, relay that information to another group to whom the first group should be communicating to anyway. They have to chase everyone for a response and feedback, and make sense of the impacts. Worse still, they can often hold ALL of the responsibility when the project is late or over budget.

How is that fair?

In Agile, the ScrumMaster role will replace the need for a Project Manager. The major difference in Agile is that where typically the PM is held solely responsible, the Scrum master is not. They are responsible for removing the barriers and blockers for the other team members. In Scrum it is more democratic and each member of the team holds responsibility for the success of the project.

There can still be a need for a project manager because there are management responsibilities to fulfil; conducting periodic individual performance reviews; dealing with higher management and other departments such as Finance, HR and Marketing.

The Business Analyst role is a little less certain. In Scrum – many companies make the mistake of relabelling the BA as a product owner. This is a very different job.  The product owner will often have other marketing, sales and business responsibilities to fulfil and is part of the Scrum team to facilitating the business change they want to achieve.

The Business Analyst can still be needed. They can assist the Product Owner by using their in-depth knowledge of the business in a number of ways:

  • Managing relationships with other stakeholders and facilitating conversations to shape broader requirements;
  • Helping the Scrum team to plan and improve their ways of working through retrospectives;
  • Ensuring the work done by the team aligns with the wider business strategy.

With all of the above there are two key principles in mind:

  1. In Agile, the team does not succeed or fail.
    We go through a sprint (a 2 or 3 week piece of work), we review what was achieved, discuss how to improve and go again. There are  little ongoing improvements to the way we work, jumping together as a team and getting better and better as we work.
  2. There are no highly prescriptive rules about how to run your Agile team
    Being truly Agile means just that - taking some fundamental ideas on board, and as we work we see what works well for the team and what does not.

In the world of Digital Transformation, Agile plays a key role. To me, Agile is a more social and a more human way of working. It allows people to challenge themselves, and enjoy contributing to improvements in the way the team works. It also dovetails with the corporate needs of quicker change, focusing on the highest priorities and achieving business value faster.

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