Learning the Agile Way to Fostering Innovation
Innovation in business requires new ways of doing things, including looking beyond traditional team structures to empower people. Agile project management is an approach to planning that has been growing in popularity since the Agile Manifesto, a set of four values and 12 principles for great software development, was first released in 2001.
Agile projects are completed in small sections, lasting one to four weeks, and move forward with insights gained from each critique. Initially created for software developers, this group of iterative methodologies has been spreading across industries for its ability to empower teams to respond to issues as they arise and deliver successful projects on time and in budget. Scrum is one of the most popular of the agile models for its flexible, simple-to-follow set of roles, responsibilities and meetings. It emphasizes making decisions based on real-world results rather than speculating up front − about customer needs and challenges − as with traditional models.
Pat Arcady, executive and agile business coach at FreeStanding Agility, describes this innovative, problem-solving approach and her upcoming PDC course.
Q: What is agile and why should businesses and professionals consider learning more about this approach?
Pat Arcady: Agile is all about determining how to deliver value to clients sooner, how to engage knowledge workers in ways that they do their best work. Traditional management styles fit into the command/control hierarchy of setting deadlines, budgets and requirements up front and then having the team deliver. But the reality is that clients don’t know everything they need initially, and the discovery process is an essential part of learning and developing great software. Agile processes focus on the “how” and building processes that account for that. The end result is more effective results and a higher degree of satisfaction from teams.
Q: Specifically, how does agile produce better results?
Arcady: In a traditional organization, centralized decision-making is at levels outside of the purview of the team doing the work at the organization. Agile, conversely, assumes that since the team is closest to the problem and has the most knowledge about it, they should be empowered to fix it. Leadership explains the “what” and the “why” and then empowers the team to determine the “how.” Because the nature of the workplace has changed dramatically, today’s knowledge workers don’t respond in the same way as in the past. They want to be challenged and empowered to think creatively. With agile, they decide who does what and how the work gets done.
Q: Why do you think agile is growing in popularity?
Arcady: Once most people work in an agile environment, they don’t want to go back. Agile calls upon individuals to be collaborative and transparent, get feedback as they move forward to be sure they are building what the client wants. It’s an amazing feeling to watch software engineers when the light bulb goes on that they actually own the outcome rather than doing a little piece of the work and throwing it over the fence. They get excited about being responsible for the gestalt of it all.
Q: Can anyone use agile methodologies?
Arcady: It comes down to the complexity and unknowns of the project. Repetitive projects don’t require agile methodologies. Agile is not advised for environments where people prefer to be told to do what to do or for companies that are not excited about innovation.
Q: Do you think there is a lot of confusion about agile and scrum?
Arcady: Yes, I think the terms are misused and misunderstood. There is a lot of “scrum, but” out there: “We are doing scrum, but we are not doing daily standups”; “we are doing scrum, but we don’t have scrum masters”; “we are doing scrum, but not doing retrospectives.” Then you are not doing scrum. The challenge is that following The Scrum Guide sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s a slippery slope to fall back into bad habits.
Q: That’s a great point. How do people avoid slipping back?
Arcady: The best way is to get coaching and training for everyone on the scrum team. Our philosophy at FreeStanding Agility is to get the client to be able to do agile well on their own as quickly as possible. The biggest resistance comes from the top, as management must explain what, why and get out of the way. And it may feel like they are giving up control. But roles and functions shift remarkably. Because your teams are empowered, your job as manager is now to remove organizational impediments that get in the way − and the list of those are innumerable − from getting them the equipment and the help they need and more.
Q: What will people get from your course at PDC?
Arcady: Our course teaches to The Scrum Guide. We do not deviate from the original inventors. The class is a blend of lecture and agile games that demonstrate scrum principles. It’s an engaging day, the time flies and when people leave they know how to follow scrum and talk more intelligently about it.
“Agile and Scrum Fundamentals” will be taught on Friday, July 15, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Career Source Career Center, 186 Alewife Brook Parkway, 3rd Floor, Cambridge. Cost is $117 ($107 through July 8). For information or to register, visit www.pdcboston.org.