If You’re Not Agile, You Should Be
In the software industry, Agile product development has become second nature. Since being officially defined in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in 2001, it’s become a widely adopted form of incremental software development by both Fortune 500 and expansion stage companies.
So if your software company isn’t already Agile, it should be. If you’re not sure what it is, the aforementioned manifesto should do a pretty good job of explaining it.
In a nutshell, Agile is an umbrella term for a series of iterative and incremental methodologies that promote development, teamwork, collaboration, and process adaptability. Each of those principles hold true throughout the product development life cycle and they allow software companies to avoid the drudgery and unpredictability of long term product development planning.
According to the manifesto, Agile values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
The idea is for software companies to be more flexible, collaborative, and responsive. If companies — regardless of their size — can be smart, fast, and adaptable, they’re likely to speed ahead of their stubborn competitors.
A few years ago, Jeff Sutherland, one of the authors of the Agile Manifesto, conducted a two day scrum master certification session for OpenView and our companies. I think it made a world of difference, as most of the companies we’ve invested in since then, and most of the prospect companies we talk to these days, have adopted some level of agile development methods. Truthfully, Agile has become standard practice for early and expansion stage software companies.
There are, of course, many forms of Agile. At OpenView, most of our portfolio companies follow the Scrum Method, which often follows two to four week sprints during which product development teams work on specific product features or backlogs. During those sprints, Scrum teams can respond to any changes the customer calls for and adjust the product accordingly.
Where Should You Start?
With the new year underway, it’s never too late to go Agile. But before jumping headlong into it, companies must plan and prepare for its implementation. Product development teams can sometimes be resistant to change and Agile requires wholesale acceptance to truly be effective.
VersionOne (disclaimer: one of OpenView’s portfolio companies) has an outstanding set of resources it calls Agile 101. The company’s blog is another excellent source. Henrik Kniberg’s book “Scrum and XP From the Trenches” is another great resource to read up on before you get started. Best of all, by registering online at InfoQ, you can download the book for free.
Speaking of free books, “Best Kept Secrets of Peer Code Review” is another good one. Jason Cohen compiled 10 practical essays written by industry experts on various code review topics, ranging from a case study of Cisco to an essay on the five types of code review. For any company or developer that’s new to Agile, the book is a great, quick read.
Tom and Mary Poppendieck’s book “Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit,” seems to have gone a long way with some key developers. Among its many topics, the book will guide you though the necessary steps to adapt agile practices to your development organization.
The question is no longer: Should you go Agile? It’s now: Why aren’t you Agile already?
The various methodologies of Agile development have become standard practice for most successful software companies. If you’re not yet Agile, it will take some time to perfect it within your company — but it would be time well spent. Your development teams will work more collaboratively and efficiently, resulting in a more responsive product that’s better tuned for today’s seemingly unpredictable market conditions.
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