I recently wrote an article about agile development for InPublishing, which as the name suggests is a trade magazine for the publishing industry. I thought you might like to read it here, so here it is…
The world is moving at an ever faster pace. At the same time, we have been operating in the harshest economic climate in our lifetime. The younger generation coming into the workplace take technology for granted, and use it in ways that not long ago we would never have imagined. Now we can access what we want, when we want, and how we want; wherever we might be and on whatever device. Technologies are converging (eg. web and mobile), whilst at the same time, new technologies are rapidly emerging – for instance, web TV, 3D, tablet computers, even augmented reality!
How is any organisation meant to cope with all of this?
It is no longer about which organisations have the heritage and strength to withstand all this change, but about which organisations are fast enough to respond to it, and adaptable enough to evolve with it. It is no longer possible to plan for three to five years. Nothing is constant for very long – at least not where technology’s concerned.
So why do so many organisations still stick so rigidly to old conventions?
Traditional methods go back years. They worked well when things were very different. But maybe they aren’t always so appropriate in the world we live in today. In an environment that is full of complexity and uncertainty, we need to structure projects differently to face that challenge.
That is why Agile development methods have emerged in recent years, and why these innovative management techniques are now crossing into the mainstream. Not just in small technology companies, but in large media companies, and more recently in banks and government organisations too.
Whereas traditional project management methods emphasise planning and control, Agile methods instead emphasise people, collaboration, flexibility, and as the name suggests, agility. For anything that is intrinsically unpredictable, because of complexity, uncertainty, or the rate of change, it is finally being recognised by many organisations that empirical, adaptive methods are more appropriate than traditional methods based on planning and control.
Agile methods also place a strong emphasis on continuous improvement. The true measure of an organisation’s chances of long term success may be its ability to learn, and respond to change, and to adapt to the unforeseeable, changing circumstances ahead of it.
As innovative and empowering as Agile methods can be, they do require a commitment to a fundamentally different way of thinking. To see maximum benefits from Agile methods, organisations may need a different structure. That’s what makes the adoption of Agile methods difficult. It’s a cultural change. And it’s potentially structural. It’s not something that can easily be adopted in small, isolated silos, at least not if it’s to achieve its full potential.
Organisational change of this magnitude ideally needs to be driven from the top, because it requires authority, commitment, leadership, and perhaps above all, tenacity. It also requires awareness, understanding and buy-in, right across the business and at every level.
Organisations that have successfully made this change have cited transformational benefits. Agile development and Agile project management methods tend to drive out a stronger commitment to delivery; to quality; to innovation; to collaboration; and to building stronger relationships with others in the business. Agile methods also help software development teams to deliver the right solution, thanks to frequent iterations, delivering in small, bite-sized pieces, and constantly inspecting and adapting based on collaboration and feedback. Agile teams embrace change, rather than seeking to prevent it.
Organisations that successfully manage this difficult transition have the opportunity to transform themselves into an agile business. A business that’s ready to adapt to change. And consequently, a business that will stand the tests of time, whatever life throws at us next.