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Fully embrace agile, not just scrum

In theory, the scrum methodology is an excellent way to make the product development cycle more efficient. Scrum is better able to incorporate customer feedback by delivering the product in small iterations in close collaboration with the customer. Dividing one long marathon into a series of 'sprints' creates a customer-centric, agile mentality that significantly improves upon an inflexible waterfall approach.

But in reality, scrum is just a piece of the puzzle — a good first step on a longer journey. Scrum only works as it’s intended when it's functioning within a fully agile environment — otherwise, any efficiency gained from scrum is lost when it inevitably encounters other departments using more traditional productivity methods.

Agile can’t just be a process a company executes: it’s something a company must become.

Why scrum alone is not enough

In a recent survey by Hewlett Packard, fifty one per cent of IT and development professionals identified as leaning toward agile principles, while only sixteen per cent claimed to be fully agile.

The truth is that on its own, scrum doesn’t make you agile. I’ve worked with IT managers who implemented scrum in their departments. Often, executives still demanded detailed plans before approving budgets. By fixating on scope and deadline, teams weren’t able to explore different options or create rapid prototypes on their own.

Take, for instance, a business in which projects are still managed using PRINCE2 or waterfall, but the software engineering portions are built using scrum. A design is created upfront with long lists of features and requirements written down in a big document, which then needs management’s approval.

After the budget’s approved, the delivery deadline is fixed, and the work is then done in chunks by multiple scrum teams. Once the product is ready, a request for change must be created so the product can be taken into production by the IT infrastructure department.

Because of these handovers, the time to market is worse than the old waterfall method. Scrum may have been a part of the process, but there was no real agility in play.

Embracing agile

When fully embracing agile, the challenge is to create multidisciplinary, autonomous teams that are able to deliver end-to-end business value, including business, design, software development, and IT operations. Many companies just using scrum don’t do this.

If a team is heavily dependent upon other parts of the organisation, improving time to market won’t happen. If a completely agile workplace seems more difficult to achieve than just implementing scrum, that’s because it is.

For a mid-level manager, it can be difficult to change the operating system of an entire enterprise. It’s not something the manager would be able to achieve on her own without top-level sponsorship.

It seems easier, then, to implement agile methodologies when and where you can, rather than fight the uphill battle of going completely agile. But the battle should be fought because the results will speak for themselves.

Why you should push for a fully agile workplace

A fully agile workplace can directly improve the way you do business. Here are three ways the move can benefit your company:

It creates a customer-centric mentality

In fact, forty nine per cent of those surveyed by HP say the switch to agile resulted in increased customer satisfaction.

How many people in your organisation actually create value for customers? Agile is about thinking from customers’ perspectives and installing a team that continuously delivers value to them. In many cases of implementing scrum, the real customer is still not in touch with the teams, so features are built that have little impact.

Remain fluid during the product development phase. If you need to prove results or a theory about a product, take the latest version to customers, solicit feedback, and incorporate it into a later model. Making this the norm among your employees will make them consistently aware of catering to the customer.

It improves communication

In the aforementioned HP survey, fifty four per cent of those polled said they made the full switch to agile to improve communication between departments that normally didn’t work together. This is largely thanks to its focus on creating mandated and co-located teams.

When only one or two departments have implemented scrum and the rest of the company is still operating under a separate mentality, there will be a lot of friction.

By taking steps toward better interdepartmental communication, like co-locating engineers at the customer’s office, you can break through these typical obstacles.

With agile, employees communicate directly instead of through layers of managers and take ownership to solve problems among themselves. Agile managers focus on coaching people and solving problems for them instead of telling them what to do.

Agile companies are able to attract and retain the right talent

If employees can make an impact (and have fun at work) without bureaucratic interference from micromanagers, people stay. Millennials are self-starting and entrepreneurial, and they don’t want to work for bureaucratic hierarchical companies. In fact, a projected forty per cent of the workforce will consist of Millennials by 2020.

There are even more reasons to switch to agile, of course. Many businesses see improved software quality, a shortened time to market, and even a reduced cost of development, to name a few.

It’s not just small startups that are built for agile. Companies with thousands of employees, such as Google, Spotify, and Facebook, are still able to use their agile DNA to innovate and iterate at a rapid pace.

Agile isn’t just about improving the present; it’s about preparing for the future. An agile outlook can future-proof your company and turn it into a truly 21st Century business.

Jurriaan Kamer, founder of Agile CIO