What Does Agile Look Like in the Real World?

A Mindset in Practice

The Agile Manifesto was introduced in 2001, and with it came an entirely new way of thinking about the software development process. Today, agile is embraced as the mindset and methodology of choice among development teams. Even other types of businesses are turning to agile as a way of putting both people and product first.

But while agile certainly has a number of benefits, it can be challenging to implement in many settings. How do successful businesses do it? How can these obstacles be mitigated?

What Is Agile?

Agile is a mindset and an approach to the software development process. Originally, it was regarded as a successor to the Waterfall methodology, which was commonly used prior to the introduction of agile. Waterfall is now considered less flexible. That’s especially so because of how frequently requirements change and developers and team members need to rethink their processes.

Agile is based on the Agile Manifesto, which consists of 12 principles that focus on the continuous improvement of software and collaboration. The principles also prioritize customer satisfaction — in fact, this is the very first principle — and flexibility in the development process. Even late in the process, developers should welcome changes in requirements.

The Manifesto also stresses the importance of delivering functional, high-quality software, as well as keeping all stakeholders informed and involved throughout the process. The entire methodology is meant to guide the team and adapt to a frequently changing landscape.

Agile in Practice: A Case Study

Multinational banking company Barclays sought to streamline its efforts and become a more effective global services organization. In the company blog, Jonathan Smart, Head of Ways of Working, discusses how the bank adopted an agile approach to promote flexibility and engage the teams.

In 2015, Barclays began the process of adopting agile practices, but as Smart notes, “There’s no end date to this: it’s about being the best at being better and it’s a never-ending journey.” Still, he reported that the company had meaningful data showing work items and issues being resolved in half the time at 50% of the cost, leading to better outcomes overall.

The customer-centric philosophy, he notes, has many benefits, including the ability to get faster feedback.

According to Smart, agile doesn’t just apply to Barclays’ technology departments. The company’s Internal Audit department, for example, also adopted the mindset. Before they did so, auditors worked on many audits simultaneously, leading to process inefficiencies and too much switching back and forth among projects. Embracing agile led to less work in progress, fewer simultaneous projects, shorter completion times, and an overall reduction in waste.

While he concedes that “it’s a big mindset shift,” Smart encourages leaders to work with their teams to promote buy-in, equipping them with a mission to complete and helping them collaborate to achieve it.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid

In order for teams to truly follow agile effectively in the real world, they must be mindful of common pitfalls associated with the mindset.

  • Failing to Attain Company Buy-in

    Agile depends on collaboration. In order to achieve it, leaders must get everyone involved on board with the methodology. Change isn’t easy, especially when you’ve been doing things one way for a long time. The process takes time, and you must appeal to people’s interests. When you’re beginning the process of implementing the agile methodology, keep employees informed about the why and how behind the decision. Ask for their input, too — because this depends on collaboration, team members will be integral in making change happen.

  • Ignoring the Role of Talent

    An effective agile team demands top talent. At BairesDev, we know this well — that’s why we only hire the Top 1% of engineers. And you need to choose the best people for the job, too.

    Too often, the skills of the individuals who make up an agile team are an afterthought. If you want your products to be successful and your customers to be satisfied with your results, it’s critical to ensure you have diverse skills on your team and fill in any gaps that exist. Think beyond technical or hard skills — agile also demands soft skills like communication, problem-solving, and, of course, collaboration.

  • Lack of Planning

    It’s true that agile is a highly flexible methodology that encourages developers to respond to changes in requirements and other elements of the process, not avoid them. It’s about “going with the flow,” so to speak. But that doesn’t mean the software development process doesn't still need planning.
    Planning is crucial for integral elements of the development process, such as:

  • 1_soak_BDev_SRP_Numeros
    Budgeting
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    Requirement gathering
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    Timeline estimations
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    Onboarding team members involved in the project

While you may deviate from the original plan, it’s still a critical part of agile.

  • Forgetting About Scalability

    Chances are, your first agile project will not be your last. Moreover, that initial project could be a rudimentary or less-frills version of what’s to come, such as an MVP. Consider how your organization can grow with agile, as well as how your products can be improved. If you’re beginning with one department or a handful of teams, think about how agile can successfully be incorporated into other aspects of your organization, as Barclays did.

  • Communication Hiccups

    Strong communication is foundational to agile development. If you haven’t established clear channels and methods for communicating with team members, clients, and other stakeholders, then both the process and end result will suffer. Upfront, organizations must determine how they will communicate, in terms of methods and frequency, to prevent these problems from occurring.

    This is true of co-located, in-person teams, but it’s even more critical for distributed teams, who don’t have the benefit of sharing a workspace. Agile revolutionized the way we deliver software. When organizations embrace the mindset successfully, it means better products, happier clients, and more efficient and productive teams.

    At BairesDev, we fully embrace agile methodologies to enhance collaboration and productivity and keep our clients involved and informed from start to finish. Curious about how we work? Contact us to learn more.

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