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Does Agile Work Beyond Software Development?

If you’re reading anything about business or management lately, you’ve probably seen the word “Agile” popping up when describing every part of the business cycle. While Agile practices have their roots in software development, the philosophies and methodologies of Agile are being applied to projects and lines of business far beyond the CIO’s office. More than likely, you are thinking to yourself, “But how can that work for me?” Maybe you […]

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October 04, 2013

If you’re reading anything about business or management lately, you’ve probably seen the word “Agile” popping up when describing every part of the business cycle. While Agile practices have their roots in software development, the philosophies and methodologies of Agile are being applied to projects and lines of business far beyond the CIO’s office.

More than likely, you are thinking to yourself, “But how can that work for me?” Maybe you want to get your IT team started or perhaps you’re an IT convert looking at your other operations and wondering if the same rules (and successes!) can apply.

In this post, I will explore the application of Agile outside of the software development world, focusing on the recent adoption of Agile for a Communications team.

A Case for Agile Communications: Getting Started

I recently began work with an organization in the Washington, D.C. area whose Communications team decided to adopt Agile methodologies to manage their portfolio of work after observing the successful implementation of Agile in that organization’s IT shop. The Communications team started to wonder if the Agile approach could work for them as they watched Agile transform the IT department from a group with a reputation for being late on delivery and consistently over budget, to an example of how to complete work on time, on budget, and with a deep understanding of user needs.

To kick-off their Agile adoption, several members of the Communications team participated in Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) training in Northern Virginia and began implementing Scrum immediately. After several sprints of mixed results, they connected with an experienced Agile coach to work with the team to refine their Agile practices.

After a few months of using Scrum and working with their Agile coach, the team began to see vast improvements. Instead of lukewarm reaction to their work, the team was now getting applauded for their success on a continual basis due to the Product Owner working closely with stakeholders to understand business value, and turning that into detailed success criteria for each story. The team was also no longer working long hours and weekends because they were the ones committing to the work as opposed to the work being assigned to them. The amount of wasted work dropped dramatically as the ScrumMaster tirelessly worked with the Product Owner and other stakeholders to, for the first time ever, finally prioritize the work that the team was doing.

What Makes This Hard? 

Even with all of the team’s success, the first few months were not without its challenges. Since Scrum is sprint specific, the team struggled to balance the priorities identified during sprint planning with high priority one-off requests. In addition, the team often did not have enough information to accurately plan for a story, but set-in-stone dates dictated that the story must be done during that sprint.

Luckily, Agile embraces flexibility, so after three months of using Scrum, the team responded by modifying their practices and began using a hybrid approach. Instead of sprint planning meetings, the Product Owner started prioritizing daily and the team did real-time story planning. This naturally led to the elimination of story points, but the team instead implemented metrics based on dates and throughput to ensure that they remained on track. However, to ensure that the team never strayed too far from what helped them remain successful, they continued to conduct reviews and retrospectives to ensure regular time for getting stakeholder feedback and reflection.

At the End of The Day: It Can Work 

Yes, Agile can be applied to projects outside of the software world. Like any project, there will be nuance to every team, so you have to be flexible, be willing to inspect and adapt, and ultimately find the right methodology for your team.

When adopting Agile on a new team, always consider the following:

  1. What are your goals?
  2. How much do you already know?
  3. Who is your champion?
  4. Where can you go for help? Engage with a local Agile coach who can help guide your team through the transition and suggest tweaks to your process to help make Agile work for you.

What experiences have you had implementing Agile outside your IT department? Share them here!

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