Updated: Sep 30, 2021
Agile has become a popular catchword in tech for the past few decades - unsurprising given so many high-growth tech companies have put their success down to being "Agile". But what does it really mean and why is it so important?
To me, agile is a means to embrace uncertainty. It's the ultimate cheat code for ensuring long-term success. It's perhaps easiest to explain how it does this metaphorically.
Let's imagine you're driving a car (an electric one ideally ⚡️🚗 ). You can only see as far as your eye can see. You cannot see your end destination nor do you necessarily know where it is. The only way to ensure now that you are on the right track is to drive, focus on what's in front of you and use signposts as incremental feedback of your progress (Or Google maps ...) Agile uses the same principles. Business is uncertain and we do not know what the ever changing needs of the world and its inhabitants will want from us in the future. The only way we can ensure we are going in the right direction is by moving forward incrementally and gathering feedback as we go. By building incrementally, we produce learnings that shape our vision and ensure we are going in the right direction for success in the long term.
Okay, so the principles make sense, but how do we do this in practice?
In software development, we do this with short development cycles. Rather than building a product in its entirety that we think to be perfect, we break it down into value driven chunks and deliver them piece-by-piece. Every time we deliver a piece (or an "increment") we test it with the group intended to use the product, and gather feedback. We then use the feedback to shape how the increment and all its associated parts may need to change. In the end we may end up with something completely different to the initial vision, but our reliance on incremental feedback (or signposts, going back to the 🚗) give us a much higher probability of reaching success.
What does the future hold for agile? To investigate this topic, I caught up with Glenn Smith at tootech.co.uk. Glenn trained to be a software engineer, and after ten years of seeing the problems from the coal face of delivery and leading delivery teams he pivoted to become an agile consultant and never looked back. He now coaches scaled agile implementations at global organisations where teams of teams are creating large solutions.
Glenns' feelings are that agile still has plenty of life left in it. He believes that the wider business departments must start to adopt a form of agility to benefit from the same growth enablers that tech has had for the last couple of decades. We've started to see it happen at companies rooted in a tech foundation (to great success) and while it's still in its early stages for traditional organisations everyone can gain Business Agility if they want to achieve it.
What we both agreed is that agile is here to stay and that the adoption of its principles in general business operations could soon be the difference between success and failure.