Agile is a powerful product development approach that is popular for a reason – it helps organizations efficiently create products that can yield high customer satisfaction. To fully grasp the power of Agile and why it has become one of the most popular product development approaches, let’s look at a few reasons that organizations decide to adopt Agile.
Faster Time to Market
Getting your product into the hands of your users as quickly as possible has many benefits; however, those benefits are contingent on minimizing the time to market. The faster you release software, the sooner you have real customer data to drive forthcoming product development. Agile can improve product team velocity in key ways.
First, Agile supports cross-functional collaboration which is essential to improve code quality and system performance. Cross-functional teams help sequence and coordinate appropriate testing, security, and other code quality checks so that each new feature is integrated and configured to work well within the larger system. The short, iterative development cycles limit work to small increments of functionality that are tested and validated before integration with the larger system impacts performance. Over time, the team gains increasing confidence that its practices will yield releases to production that perform as expected. This not only avoids technical debt, which invariably slows later development efforts, but increases team productivity as good pre-production code quality enables follow-on development to proceed through all stages quickly.
The practice of iterative learning by development teams is critical for building products that most closely address target audience needs. The goal of Agile is to deliver to end users the most value early and often, deliberately developing functionality that expressly meets unmet needs and is most useful to users. Efficient development processes mean you are getting the product into the hands of real-world customers quickly, users are engaging with the product and providing real-time data to drive upcoming decisions around feature priorities and opportunities for market penetration or growth.
Agile-based practices allow organizations to quickly validate if a proof-of-concept can be monetized, and leverage user data, rather than assumptions, to gauge returns on initial investments If additional investment is warranted, data is available to determine what functionality is essential to target. Early ROI is feasible with the quick release of an MVP or key product upgrades, and frequent releases thereafter can demonstrate marketplace traction. Over time, data can help anticipate future ROI projections.
Early Feedback & Risk Reduction
Short and early feedback loops accomplish three key things. First, we’ve established how Agile supports work broken into small increments, allowing the team to test code quickly and validate whether the team has built the right thing the right way. Modifications, if needed, can be made when the team is most familiar with the design and code under development. These short cycles let the team avoid the accumulation of untenable technical debt or underperforming features so all future pushes have needed fixes incorporated.
Another outgrowth of short feedback loops is that the team learns quickly and often. Being able to ship products and features quickly means you get early feedback from real customers or the system itself. Whether based on user acceptance testing or customer feedback metrics, future development cycles can leverage feedback to address user preferences and change functionality that failed to work as intended. Agile’s emphasis on cross-functional collaboration enables teams to examine lessons learned for not only technical but functional and human-centric requirements as well. Agile is designed to perpetuate continuous learning, and do so cumulatively, which allows the team to build problem-solving muscles that eventually lead to ideation, creative improvements, and innovation.
The third key aspect of Agile-based delivery is that it reduces risk. If customers or system performance isn’t satisfactory, the product team can target key features, vulnerabilities, or bugs and limit liability or over-exposure in the market for extended periods of time. Responding to change is a key tenet of Agile, and emergent or evolving customer needs or key operational changes that avoid negative impact on the user experience helps retain market share and significantly reduce the risk of losing customer confidence or loyalty.
Alignment & Efficiency
Agile lays the groundwork for efficiencies gained from tight feedback loops, cross-functional collaboration, and effective coordination by asking product teams to accomplish some fundamental upfront tasks that set the stage for all subsequent development work.
Agile practices are designed to have teams answer, at minimum, the following types of questions at the beginning of any effort:
- What are the objectives and purpose of this product? What niche or unmet need does it fill?
- How do we organize the team?
- How do we structure the full stack to deliver on those needs and meet the product’s intended purpose?
- How do we build and design the software? Do we have a shared roadmap ahead?
Everything should be linked and prioritized against the ultimate purpose of what you’re building. Alignment comes from not being distracted by ‘nice-to-have’ or even ‘doesn’t really matter at all’ functionality and features, but by remaining focused on the ‘must-have’ elements that deliver the most value for defined users. Admittedly, defining value is easier said than done, but that’s all the more reason why it’s important, at the beginning of a project, to determine the essential elements of a product, and validate that they support the intended objectives.
When resourcing their work, think about the efficiencies that can be gained from answering the above questions. Who needs to be part of the process at any given point? Which key milestones require key functions, such as UX Designers or Security? What team process checks are in place to take stock of whether a team is struggling and Agile coaching support may be needed? Agile is designed to facilitate cross-talk within the team to verify if and when course corrections are needed (process-wise or technically), scope changes align with the product vision and roadmap, or scope changes require team realignment on product priorities. The “racking and stacking” of what matters to customers is what’s important – not what we think or assume. Agile supports this iterative process of requirements review, prioritization, and evaluation so development can move efficiently and faster.
A good Agile team is autonomous, self-organizing, problem-solving, and creative. They’re able to ideate, connect lessons and newly identified technical opportunities, align technical specifications to support product usability and execute at a steady cadence independently. This requires a certain fundamental trust that people are capable and competent and requires management to provide functional experts the freedom to exercise their craft. That freedom–to test and make mistakes, learn fast, and be creative–is a reflection of organizational culture.
Embodying Agile values can be a striking change for many organizations, but the real risk of not adopting them should keep leaders up at night far more than devising a system that tries to mitigate the impact of low performers. In fact, good Agile teams don’t tolerate poor performers very well, and is an ideal approach for identifying and weeding out those “few bad apples”. The risk of giving a team autonomy is frequently rewarded with productivity and commitment to product and team success.
Why is this so important? People need to feel safe to learn, apply lessons without penalty, and celebrate the impact of their work on users. Safety comes with a culture that reflects Agile values, given Agile is based on core motivators of high performance: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Research has repeatedly shown that teams motivated by meaningful work and a supportive work environment will “go above and beyond” – the full extra mile, and then some. If adopting Agile reinforces a culture that benefits product team performance and morale, organizational productivity, and market success, why wouldn’t you adopt it?
Need Help Adopting Agile?
Contemplating the ROI of your Agile investment? At a minimum, if your organization isn’t seeing the impact of Agile, as described above, it may be time to assess whether your Agile implementation needs a course correction. and how to adapt practices to realize the power of an Agile approach.
While Organizations Struggle to Reap the Benefits of Agile, an Agile implementation can be redesigned to realize the promises of an Agile approach. Knowing where the major blockers are is the first step toward transforming current practices to improve team productivity and embed behaviors that support Agile values in the culture. Understanding the organizational performance goals that Agile can support – improving organizational ROI, limiting risk, strategic alignment of development priorities with product goals, and building a culture grounded in purpose, mastery, and autonomy – is important for recognizing why Agile is such a critical investment.
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