Sometimes you need an improvement approach that is faster than the traditional Six Sigma methods of DMAIC or DMEDI. Agile may be your answer. Let’s see how.  

The word agile refers to the ability to rapidly create and respond to change and the need to improve. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in a sometimes unpredictable environment. The initial application for Agile was in software development. Current practices were considered overly regulated, planned, and micromanaged.

While the Six Sigma methodologies of DMAIC, DMADV, and DMEDI provide a good approach for process improvement, sometimes you need something a little less comprehensive and faster. Agile may be a more appropriate use depending on your project and current business environment.

In 2001, seventeen software developers met at a resort in Snowbird, Utah to discuss a revised methodology for a quicker and simpler approach to project management. Together they published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development which serves as the basis for Agile project management today. 

Based on their combined experience of developing software and helping others do that, the authors of the Manifesto developed the values of Agile. They were:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: While tools and processes are important, the Agile Manifesto prioritizes having the right people in place and empowering them to interact smoothly with each other.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation: The creators of Agile believed that it was more important to get stuff done than get bogged down in the planning and documentation stages.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Instead of isolating stakeholders from the project, Agile aims to maintain contact with them throughout the creation process.
  • Responding to change over following a plan: Following a plan that doesn’t make sense to follow anymore can be counterproductive. 

Overview: What is Agile? 

Agile is an approach to project management that centers around incremental and iterative steps to completing projects. The incremental parts of a project are carried out in short-term development cycles. The approach prioritizes quick delivery, adapting to change, and collaboration rather than top-down management and following a rigid set plan.

In Agile processes, there is constant feedback, allowing team members to adjust to challenges as they arise and stakeholders an opportunity to communicate consistently. Though originally created for software development, the Agile approach is now widely used in executing many different types of projects and in managing organizations.

Using an Agile approach is judged to be better for many development projects when compared to traditional project management techniques. Traditional project management generally progresses linearly through planning, designing, implementation, and closing stages. One stage must be completed before moving to the next one. Not so with Agile.

Agile is technically not a methodology by itself, but rather a mindset for approaching how projects get done. It’s not considered a methodology because Agile doesn’t specify which tools and processes should be used. Agile is, however, the umbrella term for many types of management methodologies such as: 

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Lean
  • Crystal
  • Extreme Programming (XP)
  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD)
  • Domain-Driven Design (DDD)
  • Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
  • ScrumBan
  • Agile-Waterfall/Hybrid Agile
  • Scrum XP Hybrid

3 benefits of Agile 

Some of the benefits of Agile over traditional project management are:

1. Ability to manage changing priorities 

As a result of the iterative process of Agile, changing requirements or business conditions can be adjusted for in a quick and efficient manner. 

2. Faster project completion

Focusing on results rather than process, an Agile project can usually be completed faster than traditional approaches to project management.

3. Reduce project risk 

Since there is frequent communication and adaptation to changes, there is less risk of project failures since the team doesn’t wait until the end of the project to evaluate results. 

Why is Agile important to understand? 

Since a project team has several project management approaches it can utilize, it is important to understand why a team might choose Agile as its approach.

Contrast with traditional project management

Depending on the nature of your project, and the current business environment, you need to decide whether Agile will be a better approach to successfully completing your project. 

Frequent communication  

In Agile processes, there is frequent feedback, allowing team members to adjust to changing conditions as they arise and giving stakeholders an opportunity to consistently communicate with the project team. 

Underlying tenets of Agile 

The tenants of Agile include adaptability, iteration, continuous delivery, and short time frames. This makes Agile a project management style that’s better suited for ongoing projects and projects where certain details aren’t known from the outset. 

An industry example of Agile 

A printing company was in the B2B business providing marketing and printing services for small businesses.  The company performed an analysis of their existing project management methodology and found that teams were taking more than 60 days to move from the ideation phase to product delivery.  The 60-day cycle only amounted to 40 hours of actual work.

The company researched why this was the case and concluded that unclear decisions and long creative lead times were to blame, all of which resulted in repetitive feedback loops.  Round and round it went without much forward movement.

The company decided to switch to Agile practices with a focus on decreasing project lead time.  By introducing daily stand-ups, Kanban Boards and idea pipelines, the company was able to optimize their business processes and saw their Lead Time decrease from 40 days down to 15.

3 best practices when thinking about Agile 

Here are a few tips for effectively using Agile for your project:  

1. Team members

Strive to have the best people on your team as possible. Because of the communication and iterative approach, team members must be flexible in their thinking and comfortable with the less structured approach of Agile versus the more formal approach of traditional project management. 

2. Keep to the schedule 

Sometimes circumstances arise where you might have to postpone a meeting. Try to stay on schedule as much as possible, so the project deadlines don’t start to slip.

3. Best method of communication 

Extensive communication is a key element of Agile. Have the team determine the best method and frequency so everyone stays abreast of what is going on in the manner they are most comfortable with. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Agile

Under what conditions might Agile be a better approach than traditional project management?

If a project doesn’t have clear constraints, timelines, or available resources, it’s a good candidate for an Agile approach.

What are the core values of Agile?

The four Agile Manifesto values are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

What are the 12 Principles of Agile?

The graphic below shows Agile’s 12 Principles:

12 Agile Principles

Agile wrap up

The Agile methodology is a way to manage a project by breaking it up into several phases. It involves constant collaboration with stakeholders and continuous improvement at every stage. Once the work begins, teams cycle through a process of planning, executing, and evaluating. Continuous collaboration is vital, both with team members and project stakeholders.

When created in 2001, the Agile Manifesto put forth a mindset on delivering value and collaborating with customers based on four main values. They are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
About the Author