Why Agile?

The main promise of Agile is for companies to adapt to the speed of changes in the marketplace. All across the world, digital products disrupt existing industries and business models. Startups search for disrupting product ideas and move much faster than traditional, larger companies. By becoming more agile, companies can catch up with this speed of change.

In a research ‘state of agile’ conducted by version one across more than 1000 respondents, the following list of reasons was generated:

1. Accelerate product delivery

While the promise of Agile is to speed up product delivery, it is not always the first outcome of an agile transformation. It takes time to create the right habits and culture in teams and the wider organization to reap the ‘speed’ benefit of Agile. For management, speeding up is however the main reason (69% of respondents stated it as the main reason for adopting agile) to start an agile transformation. As stated above, companies need to speed up product launches, because if they don’t, their competitor or a new startup may do it faster than them.

2. Enhance ability to manage changing priorities

One of the basic ingredients of Agile is iterative work. Teams work in iterations or cycles of 1-4 weeks. That’s the agile timebox. The product owner can decide what user stories are added to that iteration. As the product owner is typically someone from the business side, he understands what features have the highest value for customers. This enables the product owner to change the priorities of what will be built by the team on a sprint by sprint basis. The product owner can watch competitors, learn from user, speak to customers and all this input leads him to prioritize the product backlog.

Traditional approaches to product development are based on long term planning. Requirements are fixed and made upfront. The requirements are then built sequentially by designers, developers and testers over a longer period of time. Within this longer time horizon, change is not welcome as it disrupts the plan. This puts such product teams in a weaker position when things change quickly in the market.

3. Increase productivity

Agile teams work in short timeboxes (sprints or iterations). Within their timebox, they plan their work, align on a daily basis, demonstrate the pieces of the product they built and also look at their own performance, collaboration and productivity. This means there are very short feedback loops that enable the team to learn. As they align daily, they remove blockers more quickly (with the help of a scrum master). All of this leads to a higher productivity in agile teams.

Traditional, waterfall based teams, have a longer time horizon. If a project spans 6 months, in the early stages, things will move slower. As we near milestones and deadlines, things will speed up. But overall, the productivity of teams will be lower than in Agile teams.

In the version one research, there are more reasons for adopting Agile, which their report explains in more detail.

Most companies adopt agile for IT product development. The above research is mainly based on reasons for adopting agile for software development. In the past years however, companies have also started adopting Agile outside IT. There is Agile for marketing, Agile for HR, Agile for Sales, Agile for finance. In all of these domains, Agile helps the overall organization to better be able to respond to the market, to become more flexible in their execution.

Some companies have even started enterprise agile transformations, in which they change their traditional hierarchical model. The whole organization changes to a cross functional (cross departmental), Agile team based mode of operating. See other pages to learn more about Enterprise Agile or Business Agility.

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