What is agile?
Agile is a term used to describe a form of project managing - a methodology of sorts, whose rules can be adapted in many ways within different industries. We can speak from our perspective only, so we’ll focus on the use of agile in software development. Note that you don’t have to be a developer to get involved in the agile process. From our experience, it works equally well for every team member, including sales, marketing, designers etc.
Where did it come from?
To be completely precise we have to explain that the short word “agile” indicates a set of rules explained in detail in a Manifesto created in 2001 by a group consisting of K. Beck, A. Cockburn, and others. Leaders were frustrated with, what was at the time, the traditional way of managing projects known as waterfall. The name is quite accurate because when something goes wrong in a waterfall project, it all falls down. Contrary to that, agile means flexible and able to adapt to changes.
How does agile work?
Imagine you have to build a plane. There’s no chance of doing everything at once. Also building a machine like that can be very overwhelming. A newbie wouldn’t even know where to start. And here’s where agile comes to life. When approaching a big project, you have to focus on small parts, one by one. You can’t set your mind weeks ahead, it’s better to focus on the task at hand and deliver it perfectly. Seems simple but surprisingly this type of mindset wasn’t very popular pre Agile Manifesto.
Depending on the length of your *sprint planning* (the terminology can vary on this point, we’re using nomenclature connected to scrum), you get an approximate amount of time to deliver your task. That way you and the team can manage their work and also their mindset. Some people panic when having a big project ahead and can only think of the deadline. So if you’re one of them, agile is perfect for you. Remember those wise words:
“Planning sprints to achieve small wins”
The core values of the Agile Manifesto are:
- Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools
- Working Software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to Change over following a plan
From these four rules only it’s easy to understand, that agile also means a modern, smart and liberal way of thinking. It’s no coincidence that they chose the word agile: “able to move quickly and easily.”
What are the challenges?
Of course agile is not designed for every project and some of you may find it challenging. Although it’s possible to tailor it to your needs. For example, take some inspiration from the agile approach and use it within your project or workflow.
If your job requires following a scheme, your actions have already been tested and proven correct, you probably don’t need the agile system. Comparing it with work that is based on creating something completely new from scratch, you should see the difference. The creators of Agile Manifesto come from the IT industry because building a product based on software is different in each case, therefore requires a creative attitude.
How we use agile methodology
Over the years we’ve established our own way of working agile, along with Scrum. Every two weeks we have a sprint meeting, where the leader of the team assigns tasks to each member of the team. Then we openly discuss our tasks and try to estimate the time and priority for each issue. We have to reach an agreement before we move on to the next person. Sprint meetings are also the time when we speak out about any problems we’ve faced during that iteration.
Another factor to add to our methodology is stand-ups. A stand-up is a short event held daily, at the beginning of every workday. What’s it all about? The whole team stands in a circle and every team member shares his/her plans for the day. It’s also a great opportunity to speak up about any issues or ask for advice.
What we’ve learnt from working in agile
Some may think that working in agile methodology means making abrupt decisions and trying to deliver fast as some IT companies tend to advertise. On the contrary! It's all about conscious actions and being able to quickly adapt to changes. Multiple amounts of studies show that agile projects are more successful than the traditional ones. And it’s probably all down to the flexibility, which helps minimize financial losses should they appear.
A few years of working agile taught us that every new team member needs to learn responsibility. And surprisingly it’s not an easy job. It means that when given a task, you are responsible for delivering it. Questions, advice and mentoring are more than welcome but we want our teammates to know that their work matters and has great value, which comes with responsibility.
Karol, CEO of ULAN Software & BOWWE.com, is a distinguished leader with a dual degree in CS and Marketing. With a background in FinTech, eCommerce, and Startups, his experience spans over 7 years in the Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese banking sectors, contributing to major institutions. With 11 years in SME eCommerce, he's advised 500+ companies globally and is a World Bank Group speaker. Karol has co-founded 3 startups and brings valuable insights from his Silicon Valley experience, focusing on growing international online businesses.