Being Agile: A view from outside the software industry

Posted by: Amy Weeks

Although borne out of the software industry, agile methodologies are developing an increasing relevance within other industries keen to develop their response to unpredictability.

With the ever-changing nature of many projects, agile helps businesses to develop products and services that meet with their clients’ requirements whilst managing an efficient workflow within their teams.

Published in 2001, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development outlined the four values and twelve principles of agile development methods that propose alternatives to traditional approaches to managing software projects.

As one of the most widely adopted methodologies within agile, scrum has been the most popular way to introduce agility to workplaces, utilising feedback loops, self team management, and building within iterations, to deliver products that are fit for purpose, meet the needs of the end user, and have a preserved relevance within the market.

Belinda Waldock is an agile business coach, currently working with a variety of businesses helping them to adopt agile methods and thinking within their organisations to support innovation, growth and performance. A key committee member of the globally recognised annual Agile on the Beach conference, she has developed the agile method to be accessible and relevant to any business looking to improve their agility.

We spoke to Belinda about her 5 tips for integrating Agile practice into non-software specific industries…

1. Run Sprints Not Marathons – Think Big, Act Small

Traditional project management approaches tend to try and fix the solution from the start and deliver by running one, long, slow marathon of work to reach the goal. The route is set and rigid, and unfortunately as with an actual marathon, a fair proportion never finish and exhaust themselves trying.

Agile, in contrast, looks at the project as a series of short sprints. Each sprint is typically between one to three weeks’, and work is scheduled in for the period. At the end of the sprint there’s time to catch your breath, reflect on performance, consider what’s changed and decide the direction the next sprint will take.

2. Visualise your Work

Visualise your work_being agileAn agile dashboard is a great way to visualise and organise your workload, and provides a real-time, tactile communication channel for collaborating and maintaining a shared understanding with colleagues and clients.

Visualising our work is incredibly powerful for getting things out of our heads and seeing things from a different perspective. Like many find ‘saying it out loud’ is a powerful way of thinking through and rationalising your thoughts and the reality of situations, mapping onto post it notes has a similar effect. Whether working around jobs or ideas, visually mapping these helps to gain immediate clarity and enables us to analyse, order, share and review the reality, either individually or as part of a team.

3. Find the 20% of your work that delivers 80% of the value

When your role or business is growing, changing and developing we can often find ourselves with a lot of options and too much to do, and we have to make difficult choices.

The Pareto principle suggests that 80% of the value created comes from 20% of the effort put in. Identifying this 20% and prioritising it helps to ensure we deliver value quickly and effectively.

Agile is a value-driven method, with success measured on value created. It focuses on the creation of working solutions that create the best return on investment.

4. Continuous improvement

Big changes are hard to implement and even harder to adapt to, even when they bring great benefits. The process of change can be difficult and uncomfortable for most to manage.

Agile works by integrating change on a regular basis, whether it is driven by internal or external forces. It is a learning-based method and builds continuous improvement into our daily workflow, with slack built into each sprint to enable time to improve and respond to changing circumstances. By tracking our work we can identify the blocks and barriers and work to improve workflow, whilst metrics inform us about what we can do better. Agile builds time to reflect, think, and experiment into the process, providing a structure to make regular, small, iterative improvements.

5. Have a morning Huddle

Communication and interaction are key to the success of any project, and whilst tools and processes are great they shouldn’t replace actual conversation. At worst, teams and individuals end up working in isolation only meeting monthly at best, and by the time everyone has caught up the day is over and there is no time to discuss the options and decide a way forward. If you miss the meeting you miss important updates and if you attend you’ve wasted half a day listening to things that don’t apply to you.

A morning huddle is a quick meeting held daily where colleagues working together provide an update on yesterday, today and tomorrow’s work. Held around the agile board the team update and discuss what needs to be done and who will do it. At the end of each sprint the team have a retrospective that is then focused on improvement and ways forward for the next sprint.

The result of working in this way means shorter meetings take place more regularly, helping to raise awareness, share knowledge, and bring teams together to work collaboratively.

In summary

At its core ‘being agile’ is all about expecting, managing and embracing change. It is both a mindset and a methodology. Whether you are starting, running or growing a team or your business, change is inevitable and agile provides a method for building in change rather than resisting it. Agile is a highly effective method for managing change, navigating uncertainty, empowering teams and creating a positive working environment and culture.


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