By Mathew Love
Over the past few years, the term “agile” has become a buzzword in the mold of “disruption” or “scaling”. Even if you aren’t professionally tied to the tech space, you’ve probably heard it used recently. So, what does agile mean in relation to business today?
“Agile methodology” has its roots in software development: in response to prevailing heavyweight methods, seen as rigidly planned and micromanaged, lightweight alternatives emphasized continuous communication, adjustment, and improvement throughout the development process. Although many such processes became popular during the 90s, no general framework outlined what they all had in common. That was the case until February of 2001, when seventeen developers met to discuss their shared ideas and approaches to software development. It was thus that the Agile Manifesto was born. Consisting of 4 core values based on 12 principles, its value can be boiled down to one fundamental truth: traditional models of engineering and product development were insufficient for the demands and possibilities of software development.
The purpose of agile methods is to make development teams more flexible, collaborative, and results-driven. The agile approach employs what are known as iterations or sprints: short periods of pre-set length in a development cycle (~2 weeks) during which a specific set of problems are addressed. Each sprint involves a cross-functional team and ends with a working product that can be shown to stakeholders. Teams communicate through daily ‘stand-up’ meetings where everyone shares their progress and when it’s done, the assigned customer representative confers with stakeholders to review progress and make any necessary adjustments before the next sprint begins.
The basic reason the agile approach is so effective is that the ongoing cycle of feedback and adaptation assures that quality is built into the product. While this works especially well for software, it is increasingly well-suited to other domains because of the dynamic business environment, the growing ability to gather and analyse feedback, and the constant need for innovation. Indeed, the success of agile methods in software development has led to their adoption in numerous industries: NPR, John Deere, and General Electric have all adapted principles of agile development to fit their business needs. Like countless companies before them, they too have recognized the opportunities created by “taking people out of their functional silos and putting them in self-managed and customer-focused multidisciplinary teams”.
Sound like something you might be interested in? Well that’s good, because BigTeam is here to help you realize the benefits of agile in your own business. We have customizable surveys designed to help you start implementing sprints anywhere you want to expedite results, kickstart innovation, or improve your feedback process. Additionally, we’ve put together this brief guide to agile feedback as an outline for how to move through each sprint to identify what and whom you should asking. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive or definitive manual: your uses and your organizational structure will determine the right way or you to implement these principles. Moreover, the nature of your project will dictate how much time is needed for each step and how many iterations should follow.
The first step is always the hardest, but the agile method can make it easier, or at least more worthwhile. The real issue in starting the process is identifying the right problem. The best idea won’t do you much good if it solves a problem that your target market doesn’t believe needs to be solved. Ideation/strategy sprints always begin with a clear delineation of the problem at hand and those who benefit from its solution. Only then are ideas put forth about the next steps forward. Check out our article, 5 Questions to ask before pursuing a Big Idea, for more information on just how to do this.
Members of your team; survey groups or participants; family members or friends.
Here, you present your plans/goals for the project to colleagues and others. The point is to get peoples’ reaction to what you’re trying to achieve and how well you are aiming towards that end. This can help to fine-tune your thinking but may also lead you to expand on your original goal or reframe the project.
Colleagues inside and outside of your team; external partners (close friends, professional associates, key stakeholders); subject matter experts or enthusiasts.
While this stage is focused more on doing and building than asking and learning, the feedback process does not and should not stop while the work is in progress. Stand-up meetings will uncover different perspectives and opinions, and it is crucial to communicate as you make decisions and proceed. The benefit of cross-functional teams is that the wisdom and insight from those in different functions is built into the problem-solving process, so make sure you’re encouraging communication and openness as you go.
Primarily members of your team; external partners as necessary/appropriate.
It’s almost time to put your product or service into market, but first you need some feedback. The information you get here will inform your launch campaign and go-to-market strategy. This is critical because it’s your first chance to see how people take to the product or service and understand its value to them. Proceeding without putting sufficient effort into this stage can produce disastrous results.
Survey groups or participants; external partners; subject matter experts or enthusiasts.
This stage includes both immediate reception and ongoing feedback for how your product or service is doing in the market. Based on this information, you may decide to tweak your product, move on to another issue, or return to step 1 and do another sprint.
Customers and users of your product or service.
This is a very basic overview of how agile methods can be implemented by a hypothetical team. The reality is that the underlying principles are applicable in virtually any context for a business or team working together to be the best they can be. If you’re ready to learn more about how BigTeam can help you and your team reach your potential, contact us today.