What is Agile Development?

If you work in digital then you may have heard the term “Agile” thrown around the office, it seems to be becoming more popular by the week. No problem if you haven’t thought as we are going to go over the essentials in this lesson. Every business seems to be going through a digital transformation and changing the way projects are run, agile is the topic of the moment. If you’re looking to work within the industry then you certainly will have a great advantage in understanding what agile is and how it works. 

The word agile is actually an umbrella term referring to a wide set of methodologies in software development. Back in the early ’90s as home computers were really taking off software development was faced with a crisis. According to Tech Beacon Industry experts estimated that the time between a validated business need and an actual application in production was about three years. The problem was that even 25 years ago the tech field was fast-paced and whole companies could change within 3 years.

This problem wasn’t just exclusive to the digital industry and in other businesses such as aerospace and engineering, the lag could be up to 20 years. These frustrations led to the creation of agile development and scrum. This is a system that was conceived by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber back in 1995. The name comes from the sport of Rugby and refers to  “a cross-functional team” who “huddle together to create a prioritized list”. 

Scrum.org defines the method as “a management process that cuts through complexity, to focus on building products that meet business needs.” In essence, scrum is more about removing management processes, it’s the opposite of the mammoth systems they had at the time. 

The main task of scrum is to get obstacles out of the way and allowing the team to self organize, deal with unpredictability and solve complex problems. Scrum is a process of continuous feedback and iteration, getting a product out there fast and improving upon feedback is its ultimate ambition. 

With the industry moving so quickly, products could now be released quickly and improved upon, not waiting until perfect. This, in turn, led to a form of co-creation with early adopters of the systems and rapid development to meet their expectations. A loyal fan base could be created and the system improved at the same time.

As we discussed in the last lesson a scrum team has a defined structure. The group is made up of a product owner, scrum master and development team which consists of a mixture between business analysts, UX/UI designers, and developers.

To reduce wasted time and countless meetings scum has some defined catch up points throughout the project, this gives the framework needed for the team to collaborate as efficiently as possible. 

Before the project begins the product owner will have a high-level overview as to the aim of the project. The tasks needed to complete the process are recorded in a list called the product backlog. This is a single place where all requirements and tasks are stored for the project and the order is the responsibility of the product owner. The product backlog is never complete and will be updated throughout the project based upon feedback.

Scrum projects are split up into sprints. A sprint is normally less than a month-long and is a time-boxed period with a releasable component at the end. The set of work to be completed in a sprint is defined in a session called sprint planning. This is an activity where all the team members gather together, take a look at the product backlog and discuss what they can accomplish in the time period. This is hosted by the scrum master and all of the agreed-upon tasks are added to a sprint backlog.

Throughout the sprint, the team refers to this backlog and each morning the team will gather together for a daily scrum. This is a 15-minute short session where the team discusses the previous day’s accomplishments and today’s tasks. Here is a great place to raise blockers to the scrum master and find out what’s happening around your team. In many companies, this is referred to as a stand-up, although this isn’t an official term in the scrum guidelines and you don’t actually need to stand up. 

The Scrum Master ensures that the meeting goes ahead as scheduled, but it’s up to the Development Team for participating in the Daily Scrum.

At the end of a sprint, there’s a review. This is designed so that the development team can take a closer look at what has been done in the current Sprint and then work collaboratively to discuss the next move for the project. This is a chance for the product owner to see the work that has been produced and for everyone to discuss the priority and items on the Product Backlog.

The objective of the meeting is to present the work along with being a working session. In many organizations a sprint review is referred to as a “show and tell” and the meeting focused on presenting the work to the larger team. A key thing to remember that the original goal of a sprint review is to receive feedback from the team to update the product backlog, this is a crucial element to the meetings that are regularly missed.

The final task before starting the next planning session is called the sprint retrospective. This is an opportunity for the Team to inspect itself, the working process and plan for improvements during the next Sprint.

During the session, the team discussed what went well in the last sprint, what could be improved and then what the team will commit to improving. The scrum master facilitates this process and encourages everyone to have a better and more enjoyable working environment for the next sprint.

By the end of the meeting, the team will have committed to improving certain elements of the process and have a plan to implement them. 

Although agile has been around for a long time now, it’s only in the last few years that it has been adopted in the mainstream by large organizations looking to move faster. This has been pushed along by the pace of change and pressure from efficient startups. 

If you run your own business adopting an agile approach to planning projects can really help speed up your progress and help you focus on creating something that users want. 

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