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Dec 23

Agile for dummies

Agile is a very commonly met term but often misunderstood. Sometimes it is portrayed as a methodology for project management, but in reality, it hides much more meaning. It is essentially an umbrella term for many types of management methodologies. This article will clear all your doubts about what Agile is, what it means and where you can apply it.

What is Agile?

Agile isn’t just a methodology as such, it is more of a mindset or approach to project management. The best way to describe it in a few words would be to say it is iterative, incremental, flexible, collaborative, and adjustable.

It is an approach, which bases on doing the workload in smaller chunks rather than huge bites. It is more about focusing on individual tasks and their completion rather than being overwhelmed by a huge amount of work. Here’s an everyday example of the context – food. If you could choose to eat regular meals throughout the day or go hungry and then eat one giant meal before bedtime… What would you choose? Most probably the regular portions throughout the day. It is similar with Agile. It’s about spreading the workload throughout the available time and doing it task by task at a steady pace rather than throwing ourselves into one massive task.

A menu of tasks

You might not know this, but Agile has been around for a while now. Different sources state varying dates as the beginning of the approach – it was somewhere around the 1990s. However, the official date given for the establishment of Agile is the year 2001. A group of 17 software developers met in Oregon to talk about ways to accelerate software development and get new products to market more quickly and came up with the concept then. This is when the Agile Manifesto was born. 

What values and principles guide the Agile approach?

There are 4 Agile values and 12 Agile principles, and they are:

A list of the 4 values of the agile manifesto

However, since the approach has gained recognition amongst a variety of industries and sectors, some basic ground rules had to be established.

These are the 12 Agile values:

  1. Focus on customer satisfaction
  2. Deliver frequently
  3. Remember about regular communication, face-to-face talks, and self-organised teams
  4. Measure the progress of work
  5. Work together and collaborate effectively
  6. Embrace and welcome changes
  7. Deliver working software frequently
  8. Simplify maximally
  9. Continue seeking results
  10. Maintain a constant pace
  11. Ensure sustainable development
  12. Regularly reflect and adjust

What methodologies does Agile hold?

So, we know that it is an umbrella term for many types of management methodologies. What methodologies does it contain? Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), Lean or ScrumBan, Hybrid Agile, Crystal, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Domain-Driven Design (DDD), Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM).

However, according to a survey by Digital.ai, Scrum is the most popular Agile approach. As many as 66% of the respondents have identified Scrum as the methodology they most closely follow. It’s a very popular Agile methodology, its sprints last around 2 to 4 weeks. It revolves around recurring sprints that each focus on completing a set amount of work.

Now that we’ve established the basics and ground rules of the Agile manifesto, it’s time to dive into the practical side of it.

Where can you apply it?

Agile was originally used for software development project management, but has now grown into a business mindset. You can use it in a wide variety of different teams, sectors, companies, and industries. These include finance, IT, business, fashion, technology, banking or marketing, and many, many more.

There are many methodologies hidden under the umbrella term of “Agile”. They offer different benefits and management styles that are suited to individual needs. Agile principles work well for initiatives that provide solid deliverables rather than services. However, you can use it for practically any significant project in any sector.

Therefore, any teams which are handling fast-change deliverables, who work closely with customers, and those that handle a large number of tasks within a project may benefit from using Agile. Just like teams that are working on constantly evolving projects or projects with no clear scope or requirements.

Agile in Atlassian

Jira is a software that supports project implementation in the Agile approach. Complete transparency and team visibility supports Agile teams in planning sprints, allocating tasks, and prioritising work.

However, what is missing in Jira is the lack of looking at all the processes at one time from a larger perspective. Jira allows you to make sprints, but it’s hard to see the things already completed in previous sprints, which is sometimes essential. Just as much as looking forward to the planned roadmap. Additionally, if a product is being developed by several teams, Scrum scaling systems such as SAFe®, Nexus, or LeSS should be used for better synchronisation between teams, and Jira does not provide support for these systems.

Agile in BigPicture

BigPicture provides the Board module that enables the implementation of certain processes of Scrum scaling systems, e.g. planning several iterations in SAFe® by many teams at the same time along with managing dependencies between these teams. The Board module is also used to view what has been done in past iterations. Teams can save the goals of these iterations to the Objectives module. You can also use the BigPicture solutions to build Agile schedules in the Gantt module.

A custom agile schedule within the portfolio Overview in BigPicture Enterprise.

What are the benefits?

According to the 15th State of Agile Report, the implementation rate of Agile methodologies grew from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021. This just shows how many companies are finding the Agile approach beneficial. So, what are the benefits of it?

You may notice some of the benefits from the principles listed above. For example, being close to the customer, having increased and more effective communication and collaboration within teams. But also being more focused on details, and maintaining a constant pace. However, that is not all. Agile offers a wide variety of other advantages, they also include:

  • Increased visibility and transparency throughout the project, within tasks, and teams.
  • Greater flexibility – Agile has the benefit of quick, manageable sprints that you can use to execute changes as they happen.
  • Easier planning, cost estimates, and scheduling more in line with reality.
  • Faster time-to-market, due to task prioritisation.
  • Reduced risk – Thanks to regular meetings, continuous delivery, and the ability to receive input continuously from many sources.
  • Empowered teams and better communication – Teams feel more seen and heard as they work in smaller and more organised teams. They also have more autonomy, more support, and regular and frequent meetings. Therefore you can resolve issues faster. 

What could go wrong? Unfortunately, many managers, leaders or teams don’t fully understand the concept of Agile, and make mistakes when implementing changes.

Mistakes made when implementing Agile

The best thing to do, is to make sure that when you are implementing anything new, that you explain and execute it well and clearly. So, what common mistakes do people make when introducing the Agile approach within a team or company?

  • Poor introduction, no concrete information regarding what it is and why it would be beneficial for the company/team/project.
  • Improper sprint planning, which results in inadequate planning, missed deadlines, miscommunication, and more chaos.
  • Not trusting the team to work without supervision and micromanagement.
  • Not setting clear milestones and skipping retrospectives.

Therefore, before you decide to switch to the Agile approach or any of its methodologies, make sure you understand it fully and you know how to communicate the idea to the team. What’s more, remember to make clear statements regarding how it will work in practice within the projects.

To sum up…

Agile is an approach rather than a methodology. It’s an umbrella term for different management methodologies, such as Scrum or Kanban. It revolves around the idea of viewing work as a process made up of small tasks rather than one giant project which has to be taken on at once. Agile principles indicate that the approach focuses on flexibility and adaptability, customer-centricity, transparency, continuous improvement, collaboration, and shared ownership. Do you think you understand the concept of Agile now?

About The Author

A content writer at BigPicture. Aleksandra has experience in copywriting for a wide variety of topics. She is passionate about creating educational content regarding any subject and finds joy in explaining complex topics in a more approachable fashion.