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Agile Methodology Overview: A Guide for Executives Managing and Working with Agile Teams

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

 

In February 2001, 17 software developers came together to discuss how to improve software development. They defined a compelling philosophy about how to develop software-based on 12 core principles. These principles and summary of their work—the Agile Software Development Manifesto—has significantly impacted the practice of developing software: making it more flexible, people-oriented, communications-friendly and product-delivery focused.

 

Use of agile is becoming increasingly widespread. Almost three-quarters (71%) of global organizations surveyed in a Global Project Management Survey (2017) by the Project Management Institute reported using agile approaches “sometimes, often or always.

 

agile methodology overview

 

Scrum is a very effective agile approach used frequently by Intertech and other leading consulting groups. Or, as defined by scrum experts Mark C. Layton and David Morrow, “Scrum is an agile project management framework with proven results in decreasing time to market by 30-40 percent, improving product quality and heightening customer satisfaction—all while lowering costs between 30-70 percent.”

 

Those are impressive claims and our experience with a wide range of clients bear them out. Yet, many IT folks get confused about the difference between agile and scrum or wonder why both are needed. Think of agile as the fabric of an umbrella, with scrum serving as the mechanical operations beneath it. Together, they provide an excellent way to make great software – assuming your team understands the principles of both agile and scrum and how to use them effectively together.

 

This Intertech Executive Brief provides an Agile Methodology Overview with related commentary about how scrum complements many agile principles. We hope this helps to expand your understanding of how to combine them for best results.

Author: Tom Salonek, Founder and CEO, Intertech, Inc.

Tom Salonek is the founder and CEO of Intertech, a technology consulting and training firm. Intertech has won more than 50 awards for growth, innovation, including being named one of the Top 30 Places to Work in Tech by Fortune magazine. He has an undergraduate degree in Quantitative Methods from the University of St. Thomas where he was also an instructor at the Graduate School of Business Management Center and has completed executive education at the Harvard School of Business and MIT.

Agile Principle 1

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. 

Agile Does Not Mean Poor Software Fast

Key words to notice: “early,” “continuous” and “valuable.” Agile done right does not mean cranking out poor software as fast as possible. When this happens, simply to meet arbitrary deadlines, the software is not valuable. It is just the opposite. And remember that “continuous” requires healthy pacing, like marathon runners who start the event in a measured way to avoid burning out before they meet the finish line.

Executive Insight

In scrum, teams break their work into manageable chunks and observe results frequently, making adjustments quickly and efficiently. A thorough agile methodology overview makes clear that “getting to done” only matters if the deliverable is useful.

 

Recommendation

Driving your team to meet sprint deadlines that are too tight for any anything valuable to emerge should be avoided. Take into account the experience and knowledge of team members when determining frequency of sprints. Buggy software is not valuable and does not satisfy customers.

Agile Principle 2

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. 

Changes Are Not Cause For Alarm

If your team is following agile principles and using a scrum framework as intended, changes are not cause for alarm. In fact, they’re expected. Changing market forces, tech constraints, regulations, new innovations: any of these factors can be cause for requirement changes. The scrum process—and its emphasis on doing highest priority tasks first—can easily adapt to changes at any point in a project.

Executive Insight

Some companies hesitate to spend on employee training, but it’s a wise investment. HR Magazine reports that companies who invest $1,500 on training per employee see an average of 24% more profit than companies that invest less.

Recommendation

Change can be daunting for many people, including professional developers or others in your organization. They may resist the natural change aspect of scrum. Plan to educate all project stakeholders and prepare them for the inevitable changes that will occur. Providing an agile methodology overview in advance can be helpful.

Agile Principle 3

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. 

Understand The Value of this Principle

Everyone can understand the value of this principle: faster software means the business can get to market faster and generate revenue faster. But this principle only holds when the software works and is what the business actually needs.

Executive Insight

It’s easy for IT teams to lose sight of this critical reality but forcing end users to accept substandard feature sets and large numbers of issues in production is counter to agile and scrum best practices. Promising to fix issues “in the future” does not help the business meet quality and revenue goals and may hurt the business’s reputation (and your department’s!) over time.

 

Recommendation

Take the inspection process of each sprint seriously. Make sure it works and is what the customer wants. Involving customers in the inspection process is best and speeds up adjustments because the person(s) with the required knowledge is part of the process.

Agile Principle 4

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the process. 

Understand The Value of this Principle

The same can be said about software development projects. When the The ultimate purpose of IT is to deliver value to customers. Working closely with business stakeholders encourages alignment with organizational objectives. Close daily engagement also keeps the non-IT stakeholders in the loop. Another benefit: they will understand when there’s an impediment or why something is being done a certain way.

Executive Insight

Transparency means everyone is seeing things the same way. Using scrum as a framework guides both IT team members and stakeholders, ensuring everyone sees work at each stage of development and interprets results in a common language. Most importantly, everyone has a shared agreement on the definition of “done.”

 

Recommendation

Transparency matters. Communicate clearly and frequently so all key stakeholders continue to agree on objectives and priorities, particularly if they change. Switch Power Point presentations for face-to-face informal conversations as much as possible. And don’t let your team hide in silos – that’s the opposite of an agile team.

Agile Principle 5

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done. 

Make Decisions As A Team

Hiring and retaining great people lies at the heart of this principle—it also means letting them make decisions as a team about the work to be done within sprints. Wise leaders resist “command and control” impulses, focusing instead on removing barriers and providing training and other support as needed.

Executive Insight

Consultants can be a valuable resource for some teams. Experienced consultants share knowledge and demonstrate best practices from many other projects. When experienced consultants become de facto team members, they provide subtle but valuable on-the-job training for less experienced employees or those lacking in particular technical knowledge.

Recommendation

Respect maturity and experience by allowing employees to be self-directed and to define the work that needs to be done: the size and scope of a sprint. Minimize meetings and other distractions. Encourage “we’re all in this together” thinking and do not allow self-directed teams to degrade into bands of thugs imposing their wills upon the rest of the team. 

Agile Principle 6

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. 

Documentation Should Matter

This principle, on its face, seems straightforward: eliminate documentation and just have a chat! This, however, is a gross oversimplification of agile philosophy, which says “working software” is valued more than “comprehensive documentation.” Jim Highsmith, one of the original 17 authors of the Agile Manifesto, has subsequently clarified that agile isn’t anti-process or documentation. Rather, it is against processes and documentation that do not serve a purpose in delivering solutions.

Executive Insight

“The Agile movement is not anti-methodology: in fact, many of us want to restore credibility to the word ‘methodology.’ We want to restore a balance. We embrace modelling, but not in order to file some diagram in a dusty corporate repository. We embrace documentation, but not hundreds of pages of never-maintained and rarely-used tomes. We plan, but recognize the limits of planning in a turbulent environment,” — Jim Highsmith for the Agile Alliance.

 

Recommendation

Don’t fall into the trap of relying solely on verbal communication to ensure everyone is on the same page. People interpret information differently based on where they’re coming from. Use documentation strategically to reduce the interpretation gap. Only create useful documents, keep them to a minimum and continue to talk directly with key stakeholders daily.

Agile Principle 7

Working software is the primary measure of progress. 

Quality Trumps Schedule

If your team is truly agile, the definition of “done-done” is well understood and components are only deployed when criteria is met. In other words, quality trumps schedule. If software doesn’t work, it will not be shipped.

Executive Insight

Some teams become so obsessed with “meeting schedule” that they lose sight of the most important objective: “working” software. “Ship and repair” is not a deployment strategy to be emulated.

 

Recommendation

View sprint deadlines as targets not absolute boundaries. Scrum builds in inspections and adaptations to be accomplished immediately at the team and project levels: reviews, retrospectives and the daily scrum. Adaptations should be made as soon as possible. Before moving forward everything should be working properly.

Agile Principle 8

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. 

Five Foundational Values of Scrum

Principle 8 correlates with the five foundational values on which scrum is founded:
 

  • Commitment

  • Focus

  • Openness

  • Respect

  • Courage

 
Team members must be committed to meeting goals and delivering working software at a constant pace. Focusing on a few things at a time allows goals to be met in most cases. Openness means everyone knows what’s happening all the time. While this level of exposure may seem scary in the beginning, it’s actually key to keeping the development pace sustainable.

Executive Insight

Scrum has one golden rule (you learned this one in kindergarten): respect for each other! And courage? That refers to the level of scrutiny ideas face in a scrum project. Team members must be brave enough to bring forward new ideas and accept when the majority disagrees. They also must have the courage to speak up when they disagree.

 

Recommendation

Keep your team fresh by using scrum as a reliable framework and reinforcing these five core scrum values, especially when people are feeling the heat. Reasonable standards and processes actually enable speed and creativity. Coach your team to think of projects as marathons composed of a series of sprints. Winning a sprint (making an impossible deadline) but coming in last in the marathon (not meeting business goals) is not good for you, your team or your business.

Agile Principle 9

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. 

Make It Glimmer

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

This saying is attributed to writer extraordinaire Anton Chekhov. His point? Don’t settle for the predictable or cliched way of communicating. Of course, writing that glistens takes time, attention and care.

Technical excellence and good software design need continuous attention too. In fact, attention to design and technical excellence is key in authentically agile projects. Some teams resist spending time on design, dismissing it as a time waster. Nothing could be further from the truth. Good design saves time by eliminating wasted effort.

Executive Insight

Processes and standards for ensuring technical excellence and good design exist in agile and scrum, but as enablers of consistency and speed. Process for the sake of process: never; process that has value: absolutely!

Recommendation

When you or your team receive requests for documentation, resist the urge to say, “That’s not necessary in agile and/or scrum.” Instead, challenge the requestor to give you adequate information to evaluate the value, risk and reward of preparing documentation. If, after this, you are convinced it will have value, find the most efficient way of getting it done.

Agile Principle 10

Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential. 

Simply Solve It

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” — Peter J. Drucker – economist

Common sense? Of course, but common sense is not always common! Let’s clarify: this agile principle is not intended to encourage sloth. Rather, it directs people to find the simplest way to solve a business problem with quality – versus finding the fastest way to code a possible solution.

Executive Insight

This may be the most difficult principle to put into every day action. Agile teams must continually resist the urge to over-engineer solutions simply because they have the knowledge to do so. Instead, egos must be put aside in the interest of finding solutions that get the most value into the hands of end users as quickly as possible.

 

Recommendation

Don’t eliminate process steps, such as testing, in the false belief that this will simplify delivery. It could have the opposite effect in the form of rework. Instead, use the backlog as the gate keeper so all truly necessary work gets prioritized and worked on at the right time.

Agile Principle 11

The best architecture, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. 

Come Together

With scrum, teams organically come together to solve problems based on the skills of each team member. It’s a concept from the game of rugby: each team member has a unique role, but they all work together to move the ball down the field (or to block the other team from doing so). This is a called a “huddle” or a “scrum” and, not coincidentally, these terms have special meaning in IT projects too. Whole books have been written on this subject but here’s the bottom line: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.“

Executive Insight

Give the team permission to make mistakes and invent solutions, just ensure they are delivering and evaluating (performing retrospectives) on a regular basis. When a team is empowered and teamwork is encouraged, hierarchical lines blur and better software typically results. It’s not surprising when you consider that company and team success motivates more people than achieving personal goals.

 

Recommendation

Resist reviewing and approving the project plans, and, worse yet, changing direction. And do not insist on formal boundaries around project roles. Agile and scrum should promote environments where everyone shares a common purpose and goal.

Agile Principle 12

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. 

Take Review and Improvement Seriously

This last principle is where the rubber meets the agile/scrum road. It’s referring to the practice of retrospectives, which is a classic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. In a true agile/scrum environment, every team takes review and improvement seriously. This can be seen in each subsequent sprint.

Executive Insight

Many teams give lip service to retrospectives but fail to act on any results. Other truly dysfunctional teams use retrospectives to “play the blame game.” And some just skip retrospectives altogether – to their customers’ or organization’s peril.

 

Recommendation

When new processes are recommended during a retrospective, encourage the team to challenge all activities that add work. The goal should be to ensure that any new work is necessary, adds value and is optimized.

Conclusion

Agile/Scrum: Getting Past Hype to Enduring Benefits

  • 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 basic agile concepts, along with the 12 principles outlined in this Agile and Scrum Methodology Explained, are profoundly transforming the software development landscape. But revolutions always come with hiccups, particularly the gap between expectations and reality. That, too, has characterized agile project adoption. Now reality is settling in and development teams, project managers and the organizations they work for, are becoming more realistic about the benefits and challenges of agile.

“According to the Gartner Hype Circle, agile project management is reaching the peak of inflated expectations—in other words, problems with agile will start to make themselves better known to the PM community.” — Gartner

 

 

Still, many believe ( Intertech chief among them! ) that agile projects – particularly when combined with scrum – offer the best chance of success for most organizations. In fact, 2017 research by PwC found that “agile projects are 28% more successful that traditional projects.

We hope this Intertech Executive Brief has given you valuable insight into the world of agile and scrum software development. Let us know if we can answer any questions!

About Intertech Executive Brief

Intertech publishes original articles, reports and periodicals that provide insights for business leaders. Our goal is to draw upon research and experience from throughout our professional services organization, to include consulting and training, as well as coauthors in academia and business throughout the world, to advance the understanding of important principles of interest to executives throughout the IT world.

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