Have we lost the art of “Agile”?

Very much the buzzword of the IT industry 15 years ago, today “agile” has become one of the most overused terms in business.

In recent years, the word has come to supersede almost every business process to suggest a more efficient way of doing things - whether you’re being offered a new agile way of managing your finances, implementing an agile cloud solution, or developing an agile work environment.

With everything seemingly becoming agile, a lack of clarity has in fact emerged in the IT sector around the agile philosophy, with many CIOs unsure of how to follow it and what value it holds for their business today.

The agile revolution

When “Agile” (with a capital “A”) first came to the fore, it revolutionised the software development approach. The principles of an agile philosophy were most famously detailed in the Agile Manifesto, which emerged in 2001, turning traditional development processes upside down and suggesting teams take a more progressive, collaborative and transparent approach.

Over 15 years on and the philosophy is still being used within software development processes, but for many the underlying principles have become lost or deemed to be less relevant in today’s fast moving environment. However, despite its age, the key beliefs within the manifesto, namely: interaction over processes; collaboration; and responsiveness to change, are still relevant to projects today and remain vital to business success.

In my experience, there are three common misconceptions which prevent the agile philosophy from making a difference in today’s development projects.

Myth 1: Agile teams don’t plan

Agility might have turned software development practices on their head but at no point did planning go out of the window. In fact, teams that apply agility are constantly planning! It is too important to do just once and if inspection of reality is different from the plan then, under the principles of agile beliefs, it is adapted to ensure that the outcome is fit for purpose.

Flexibility in technology innovation is key and in today’s fast moving technology environment, evolving and keeping up with the competition is vital. Approaching IT change in this way will ensure it provides the best value for the business and the end result goes live without any glitches.

Myth 2: Agile lacks a process

Pre-packaged processes won’t work in today’s technology environment, but every project undertaken needs a process to ensure key milestones are met and everybody is clear about their roles and responsibilities. In an Agile world, detailed processes rarely survive a change of context and abstract processes are usually too far from reality to be useful.

To give a project using agile beliefs every chance of success, the right process is important and most effective are those that have been adapted to suit the specific local environment rather than an out of the box solution.

Myth 3: Agile lacks discipline

Far from it. Agility thrives on discipline. By breaking development down into iterations and bite sized chunks, strict time keeping and deadlines ensure all actions are carried out and that each stage happens on time. Agile does not mean disorganised, but a flexible, adaptable approach to developing software and undertaking IT change. Boundaries and insight still exist within the framework to ensure chaos does not break out.

The evolution of agile

It has become such a commonly used word over the past decade that there is almost an expectation that everything can become agile. But when it comes to going about it, many CIOs lack trust in their teams to support an Agile adoption.

An underlying agile philosophy still remains fundamental to the success of software projects today, but must evolve to help companies cope with the rapid pace of change in IT and an increasingly mobile workforce. Organisations must avoid marketing jargon and embrace the core principles to keep them competitive tomorrow.

Applying agile principles will ensure businesses have the framework in place to successfully tackle the next big technology change.

Jerry Stubbs is Associate Director, Head of Agile Services.