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Agile Benefits

Organisations that use Agile successfully will tell you that there are countless benefits. So much so in fact, that once a team has used it, they typically explore ways to use it in other projects and extend it to business as usual activity. Here are some of the most frequently cited benefits:

Increased focus on delivering genuine business value

Business leaders and project managers have discovered that on-time and on-budget does not always equate to real business value being delivered. A business product (e.g. project deliverable, product, service, etc) must be fit for purpose, liked (loved) by the end user, be able to adapt to future changes and reflect the quality that is inherent in the organisation's brand. Only then, is the product likely to provide a return on investment.

Traditional business project management methodologies expend significant amounts of effort trying to define the path to the final outcome. Whereas the Agile mindset acknowledges that the pursuit of certainty and predictability in project management is driven by illusion. There are so many unknowns and changeable factors that trying to pin down a static scope or budget or timeline (for an entire project) is illogical (and wasteful).

Instead, Agile aims to understand a customer's desires, breaking them down into a series of chunks that are worked on in small, achievable steps with an aim to deliver the highest value with available resources in a fixed time.

A rigorous focus on the customer or end user

What’s the point in delivering a product that doesn’t meet the customer needs? It's easy to say "no point at all" yet it happens every day. Why? Technology may have changed, people's tastes may have changed, a competitor has come up with a better solution, or even that the customer’s needs weren’t fully understood and integrated into product development in the first place.

Agile practices minimise the risk of this happening. Practices that solicit the voice of the customer are used to build to ensure that work is done delivering what the customer wants.

Quality checking and continuous improvement are entrenched in Agile way of work as a standard discipline, providing constant feedback into the relevance of the project’s direction and the quality of the output.

Adaptive to change

Agile embraces change as an inevitable reality. In fact, the Agile way of work sees change as a necessary and positive phenomena. As work is completed in small, bite-sized chunks, (through iterations) changes can be incorporated on the fly.

Continuous 'testing' is built into the iterations to ensure that the projects features are acceptable to the end user. Through exposing work to the customer as early as possible, changes can be reviewed and the project can be course corrected as required. This is akin to commissioning an artist who gives you a charcoal sketch after 4 weeks rather than waiting months or years for a reveal. If a customer wants to make changes, they can do so and the Agile team can also have a mature conversation with the business about the other features that will be either delayed, demoted, diminished or otherwise resourced in order to deliver value.

Deliver products faster, with lower risk, lower costs and greater relevance

Using the Agile principles and practices allows customer requirements to be broken down into small, do-able chunks. These chunks are then prioritised based on their value and delivered in iterations. The customer is closely involved in these iterations as the goal is not necessarily to deliver a product exactly as it was envisioned months or years ago, but to create a product that has the optimal relevance and required quality – as judged by the customer.

In other words, the Agile team aims to deliver on the originally conceived requirements without necessarily following the plan. This may sound peculiar and risky but in fact this reduces risk and cost as the Agile way requires a high touch with the customer, allowing them to regularly provide feedback and ensure effort goes into the things that matter.

Increased discipline in execution

Discipline is key to any project success regardless of the methodology used. While Agile embraces flexibility and adaptability, it does not shy away from the rigour required for effective execution. However, the slavish execution of a method doesn't guarantee success either. I know of several large projects that were audited and found to be compliant but failed to realise the benefit that justified their initiation. In my opinion, too much focus was placed on diligently executing the plan rather than applying the discipline to effectively delivering value.

The key discipline questions to ask are:

  1. Are we doing the right work?
  2. Are we doing the work right?

Within an Agile ecosystem, projects can go awry if they do not receive the right type of sponsorship or fail to sufficiently define the problem. Particular emphasis also needs to be placed on thoroughly understanding the voice of the customer. If the time and effort is put in up front to get these things right (and this can be considerable), then the project is set up for success.

NOTE: Any organisation that claims to have tried Agile but found it did not deliver either approached it insufficiently (e.g. a Tragile or Fragile approach) or lacked the discipline (and probably the perseverance) to effectively apply the principles and practices.

Empowered individuals working in cross functional teams

Everyone wants to do a good job. When groups of people get together to do a project, I assume that the project team collectively wants to do a good job too.

As with any other project management approach, Agile project teams require the input of a number of people in order to effectively deliver. Agile project teams are usually made up of a cross-functional representation drawn from across the business and can include customer representatives too. Agile teams also frequently involve other stakeholders (e.g. HR, Finance or Risk / Audit professionals) to ensure better project outcomes are delivered.

The key thing tin getting a newly established team performing is to ensure they are enabled to do their work and they are engaged in the process. There are many ways to do this. I find the best way to empower individuals is to give them a clear articulation of the desired outcome and trust that will do the right thing – then check in daily to track progress, develop them as required (using a just-in-time approach) and manage risk accordingly. Then get out of their way and / or remove blockers to let them get on with it.

The added benefit of having a core team that is operating in a high trust environment and meets regularly to understand and prioritise the work means that the project team has a high degree of corporate memory. This minimises the risk of having a single point of failure as individuals are familiar with each other's work.

Increased engagement ...and making work satisfying and fun

Would you rather go to a dull meeting that drones on for hours or cut to the chase and get on with doing the work? Would you rather sit at a workstation and pump out documents that will unlikely be read or work as part of supportive team in an interactive environment? And why wait for months or years to see the results of your hard work when you can see it delivering value in a few weeks (...or days)?

Agile is all about culture too. From project inception, team members contribute to design their social contract to determine how they will work together. Agile teams are also encouraged to openly communicate, collaborate with self-determination and apply the Agile principles to approach their work in fresh and rewarding ways. Using the practices of iterative delivery, team members also get to see their work ‘out there’ and delivering value much sooner.

The Agile approach also helps foster and retain engaged, productive and creative employees by reviewing and celebrating success regularly.