Long live agile! Let’s focus on ‘small and perfectly formed’

Our world is speeding up. Businesses, employees, and the consumers they service increasingly expect the things they need, faster than ever before.

Want to download an update? It better not take longer than a few seconds. Want to watch a film from your device of choice? Easy, just sign in to your streaming provider and click play. Everything is available to us at our fingertips, and we want this convenience from wherever we are; at work, at home, or on the go.

To thrive in this digitally-driven world and fuel the insatiable need for speed, technology businesses have been adopting agile development methodologies for a long time now. This has helped them to deliver products and services ahead of the competition, with more frequent innovations that create a point of difference.

The benefits of the agile methodology as opposed to waterfall development are well established. By delivering a project in a series of small steps, teams can push out smaller releases faster, improve quality, test more easily, get feedback on changes, and make further plan amendments quickly.

Additionally, agile approaches can break down barriers and help different teams work more effectively together. But there’s a misconception at the moment that agile is just a software engineering technique consisting of sprints, backlogs and a task board. It goes beyond this, and can reshape the way that entire companies operate. Scary prospect? Perhaps, but the payback can be well worth it.

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Moving to an agile mindset can also help change the rules of the game so that your team, and indeed your business as a whole can look to lead the market. The concept of DevOps is increasingly gathering interest and momentum, where agile small steps of improvement are automated and released at a continuous and rapid pace, with developers close to and reacting to each micro release into live operations.

A prime example is Rackspace, which rolls out 15 releases into its cloud platforms per day. Some companies use this approach to build environments that challenge the status quo and cultivate innovation. Take Netflix for example, and its ‘Chaos Monkey’ – a tool built into its servers which seeks out and purposefully kills instances and services within its architecture.

The thinking behind this is that if their teams aren’t constantly testing their ability to succeed and innovate - despite failure - then it isn’t likely to work when it happens most – in the event of an unexpected outage.

This is an extreme example of agile teams and methodologies, and indeed most businesses will need to take a slightly more scaled down approach. Facebook’s mantra for many years was famously ‘move fast and break things’ but as a business it recently took a different philosophy, changing to ‘move fast with stable infra’. Zuckerberg said of this evolution "It might not have the same ring to it and might not be as catchy...but it helps us build better experiences for everyone we serve and how we operate now."

The emphasis therefore is moving from speed to precision. Businesses are taking an agile approach to the way that they operate, and delivering more frequent, small and ‘perfectly formed’ releases, which fosters a culture of innovation and quality that keeps customers coming back for more.

For example, at LANDESK we work to a quarterly release model which allows us to react to market and technology shifts, drive rapid incremental change, and bring value to our customers more quickly.

For those that preach the death of agile, I think it has legs for many years yet. Our technologies and tools might change, but the fundamental issues that the agile methodology can solve will still remain.

Running teams and businesses will still take a lot of collective discipline, and most of the challenges will still be caused by humans (wanting to take shortcuts), not technology. Long live agile!

Ian Aitchison is ITSM Product Director at LANDESK.