What is Agile?

The Agile methodology has become a project management philosophy for teams in every sector. But what is Agile? And why would today’s project leaders consider adopting Agile values?

What is Agile? Four core values define the Agile mindset.

From the Agile Manifesto, written and adopted in 2001 by a group of forward-thinking software developers, the four core values of Agile include:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  4. Responding to change over following a plan

What is Agile in software terms?

In software, this means iterative development (i.e. building small units of functionality for the customer and then refining work based on customer feedback). Developers complete each iteration for presentation to the customer within a ‘time-box’, that is a pre-defined length of time (such as X hours, days, or weeks -- usually not any longer than four weeks). For more information about a software developer’s answer to “What is Agile?” and the benefits of adopting it, check out this article and this tutorial for tips on how to make the jump.

What is Agile beyond the confines of software development?

In every sector and across departments within organizations, Agile teams work responsively to their stakeholders’ shifting needs (whether the stakeholder is a customer, another department within the organization, or the organization as a whole). To examine ‘What is Agile?’ in terms of what it is not, check out these Agile myths.

What is Agile? A general outline:

What is Agile? Begin with a loose plan.

Attending to the stakeholder’s requests, the team first maps out a list of highest priority tasks, knowing that this list is a living, breathing outline that will evolve.

What is Agile? Let’s break it down.

The team then breaks the highest priority needs into the smallest possible parts. In software development, those smallest possible units of functionality are referred to as a host of things like ‘Features’ or ‘User Stories’. For a marketing team, a project may have ad spots, articles, logo development, company brochures, etc.

What is Agile? Quick turnaround

Individuals or teams complete those small tasks on a pre-defined, incremental basis and present that work to stakeholders for feedback. Following the software precedent, this short ‘sprint’ may be measured in hours, days, or weeks (but usually no longer than two to four weeks).

What is Agile? Frequent communication

Ending the ‘sprint’, the team shows completed work to the stakeholders. Immediate feedback is essential to driving the next sprint.

What is Agile? Revise or label it “Done Done”

Using feedback from the stakeholder, the team or individual refines what is needed and, once that work is complete to the stakeholder’s satisfaction (or ‘Done Done’), the team moves on to tackle the next task.

What is Agile? Revisit the plan

Because the team is working so closely with the stakeholder, everyone can evaluate the task list and work collaboratively to identify the next priority, which, in today’s fast-paced market, is very likely to have changed.

What is Agile? Improved job estimation

One tremendous benefit is that, as the team leader gains more experience with her team and stakeholder(s), she is better able to accurately forecast the number of hours, days, weeks, etc. for future iterations and projects as a whole.

What is Agile? How do you keep track of all these moving parts?

In practice, communication between team members is key to being Agile. Agile project management tools helps teams easily see what needs to be done, when, and by whom.  

What is Agile? What’s the easiest way for my team to become Agile?

Kanban, a Japanese style of project management, uses a visual and collaborative method to maximize that transparency and communication between all team members. LeanKit offers a ton of resources to help you find out more about Kanban and tools to map out your team’s transition to Kanban.

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