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What is Agile All About?

February 22, 2023

If you’re a newcomer to all of this, you might be asking yourself: What is Agile even all about? How can organizations such as your own profit from becoming more agile?

To understand what Agility is, we have to go back to how things are being done in a traditional approach. 
In the past and still today a lot of projects have a plan-driven approach. A plan-driven approach means that at the beginning of a project you get together with your customer, create a vision of what the customer wants and needs and then make a detailed plan from beginning to end of how to get there. Then different people (e.g. the designer, the developer, the tester) work on the product in sequence, doing everything that is needed in their field of expertise before they hand off their work to the next person or team that then works on their part of expertise. In the very end the product is presented to the customer. WaterfallThis approach is called „waterfall“ because once the plan is made there is no going back. You can’t go up a waterfall, can you? The project just flows „downwards“ from one person of expertise to the next.

Let’s look at the best case scenario: you have built exactly the right product that fits the needs and wants of your customers, meaning that is has a lot of value to your customer. The customer is happy, you are happy. Great!
Seems reasonable, right? Why should we change that? Well… That was the best case scenario. In the worst case scenario you have spent a lot of work, time and money creating a product that doesn’t fulfill your customers’ needs and wants. So you have accumulated a lot of risk along the way and in the end don’t have a lot of value to show for. That’s why we should take a closer look at the underlying problems of „waterfall“. 

FortunetellerFirst of all in a plan-driven approach you make the assumption that 
a) you have completely understood the problem or need of the customers, that 
b) you have all the information that is needed in creating the product beforehand and that 
c) nothing unpredictable will come along the way.
If people would always exactly understand what you need, your spouse would have bought frozen basil and not dried basil when you sent him or her grocery shopping yesterday. Wasn’t that totally clear when you wrote „please bring basil“. Apparently not… If you always had all the information beforehand you would have realized that you actually need fresh basil for the new recipe to work. But now it’s Sunday and in Germany the shops are closed on Sunday. And the thing with the world being totally predictable? Are you a fortune teller? Because I‘m not… 
To summarize: in a plan-driven approach you make most decisions when you have the least amount of knowledge! And on top of that we know that knowledge gets lost along the way. With each hand-over from a person to the next you lose about 50% of the information. It’s basically like “Chinese Whispers” (“Stille Post”). When person number 4 gets his or her hand-over, about 87% of the information has been lost. Can you imagine?!

This is where Agile can save the day! 

According to the Oxford dictionary the word agile means „being able to move quickly and easily“. Agile accepts the facts that we can’t have all the information beforehand, that unpredictable things will happen along the way and that we will need to be able to adjust and adapt „quickly and easily“ during the process! 
team workWhen you work in an agile manner you change four important things:
1)    You and your colleagues don’t work separately and in sequence – handing off your work to the next person – anymore but instead form a team that works together from beginning to end. This way you profit from each other’s knowledge, you learn together and you don’t lose all that information due to hand-offs.
2)    Instead of making a detailed plan from A to Z beforehand like in a plan-driven approach, you take a step-to-step approach. As a team you decide what and how to build first. This is something that will bring you one step further to your vision of the product. You plan your second step when you have completed your first step entirely. Step-by-step! 
3)    It’s also called a value-driven approach because you decide to build a first (or second or third and so on) item that in it self adds some real value to your customers. In the Software industry about 50% of all the items aren’t used in the end… Think about that: half of the product has basically no value to the customers!
4)    At the end of having built your first item you then present this item to your customers – thereby delivering value to them early on and also getting their feedback early on. Through the customers‘ feedbacks you understand their problems or needs better and better along the way. You don’t accidentally build something that in the end won’t be of a lot of value to them. You can learn from your mistakes, make changes, adapt to new information and insights and overall improve your product sooner while avoiding waste and controlling risks. 

The question isn’t „Why Agile?“. It’s „Why NOT Agile?!“ 

Want to learn more? Then come to one of my trainings! Find the schedule at LINK 

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