What is agile methodology and how can it generate value for your business?
In this post, we’ll answer these questions, plus we’ll look at:
- Examples of agile methods in business
- The pros and cons of agile
- Why agile has become so popular
To start off, let’s get a clear definition of what agile is.
What Is Agile Methodology?
Agile is a mindset and a set of business principles built around responsiveness to change, customers, users, and stakeholders.
The idea behind agile is to create processes and products that closely follow users’ needs and wants, making it useful for everything from product development to digital transformation to change management.
Among other things, agile methods emphasize:
- Continual feedback from product users
- Ongoing collaboration with teams and stakeholders
- Functional products and services over documentation and static processes
This approach contrasts with other traditional business practices, such as the waterfall approach. In fact, agile could very well be a reaction against these types of practices.
Those using the waterfall method, for instance, often create products in isolation over long periods of time, often without direct feedback from users.
While it is certainly possible to create ground-breaking products and services in this way – and some still prefer this approach – it also carries risks. One risk, for instance, is that the products and services created will be irrelevant to users’ needs, at least to a certain degree.
On the other hand, agile methods tend to generate products and services that are more useful and relevant, as we’ll see below.
The Pros and Cons of Agile Methods
Since agile practitioners rely so heavily on user input:
- Products and services are more likely to be closely tuned to that input and those needs
- Less time and energy will be wasted on irrelevant processes, products, and features
- Users will be more engaged, more satisfied, and more loyal
- Disruptive changes, such as marketplace changes, will have less of an impact on agile methods than on other approaches
According to many, agile is far more suitable for today’s fast-paced world than other, more traditional business methods. Everyone from Gartner to McKinsey to Salesforce have advocated for using agile methods, making it one of the most popular ideas in today’s business world.
At the same time, however, it is important to recognize the limitations of this approach. That is, it certainly has its use cases and entire businesses have even been built using this approach – but it is not a cure-all.
Some, for instance, have pointed out that agile isn’t innovative.
Products that rely strictly on customer feedback, the thinking goes, are hardly likely to turn into groundbreaking ideas that disrupt markets.
For this reason, some have adopted business methods that combine agile with other approaches, such as the waterfall method, and created hybrid agile business models.
Examples of Agile in Business
While agile originated in the software development space, it has spread to many other business areas, from HR to product development.
Here are just a few examples of how agile can be applied in business units beyond software development:
- Agile change management can ensure that organizational change projects stay relevant, nimble, and cost-efficient
- In HR, agile practices can be used to improve the relevance of hiring, employee experience management, employee training, and more
- Agile project management can improve the costs and nimbleness of any manner of business project
- An agile workforce is more open to change and learning and, as a result, will be more able to adjust to changes as needed
- An agile organization implements agile into its very approach, from its strategy to business processes
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which agile can be used to make a business function more relevant and useful to customers.
To gain a clearer understanding of what these workflows look like in practice, let’s compare traditional workflows to their agile counterparts.
Agile Workflows vs. Traditional Workflows
Traditional workflows are linear in nature and follow steps such as:
- Setting goals
- Creating strategies
Naturally, the number and complexity of the workflow will depend on the situation. Not all will include so many steps – some will include more, some will include less.
Yet the general idea remains the same: set goals and follow a predetermined set of steps to achieve those goals.
In agile, however, rather than setting and pursuing static goals, business practitioners will focus on “moving targets” that are built upon user feedback.
The agile workflow, therefore, is circular, including steps such as:
- User input
- Testing and delivery
While a business “hypothesis” or “vision” will precede the first step listed above, the key distinction here is that the process is continually tested, retested, and reevaluated based on user surveys, user feedback, data, and other forms of user input. This approach stands in stark contrast to other approaches that wait until much later in the product development cycle to receive user feedback.