When well-meaning leaders think about Agile, they envision speed – speed through design, speed through development, and speed to delivery. It doesn’t help that terms like sprint, velocity and burndown are commonly used within Agile frameworks.
But Agile isn’t a silver bullet. A more appropriate description would be “quick, efficient, and flexible.” While Agile will do nothing to move a developer’s hands across the keyboard faster, even a sprinkling of Agile practices can yield sufficient benefit to warrant investment. Implemented correctly, Agile will result in higher returns, lower costs, and improved employee morale.
Agile’s ultimate measure of success
Within Agile methodologies, all work performed should be production-worthy. The end goal is to put valuable, high-quality software in the hands of the customer. As soon as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is complete, the product is pushed to production to begin collecting revenue. For example, if one were to assume that 80% of what your customer is willing to pay for represents 20% of the work, simply working in smaller increments (with highest value prioritized first) and releasing immediately after 20% of the work is done will result in a 35% increase in first-year income.1 Consider the benefit of executing with even smaller increments and more frequent releases to production. In that case, Agile is quick to deliver incremental value to market and delivers on its implied promise of speed with a faster return on investment.
Employing Agile methodologies is going to cut costs
Work is always executed in order of business value, so the most marketable feature will hit production first. An oft-cited Standish Group survey found that only 20% of product features are used ‘always’ or ‘often’2. Agile will always allow teams to quickly cut losses and pivot to work on the most sought-after features.
In the earlier example, it might make sense to abandon the last 80% of effort in pursuit of a project with a higher rate of return. However, this level of flexibility – to quickly alter direction toward a higher priority project – does not come at the cost of an incomplete or sub-par product. Agile also promotes continuous testing; all incremental output should meet a consistent level of quality. It is broadly accepted that the earlier in the development lifecycle that defects are found, the less costly it is to fix them. Similarly, Agile dictates that the customer (or proxy) sees and validates the work on a frequent basis. When Agile is practiced correctly, it will almost guarantee user acceptance and minimal rework/waste.
Agile leads to improved morale and a more positive culture
At the heart of Agile is collaboration. Most Agile execution paths involve building cohesive and consistent teams. Agile principles become a foundation for heightened productivity, better solutions, and lower turnover. Beyond providing a sense of kinship and belonging, Agile empowers teams. Teams influence (or own) product design, teams own estimates, and teams own delivery of the value. Empowerment not only leads to greater satisfaction at work, but it has the added effect of instilling a sense of responsibility and accountability for outcomes. Greater personal investment will result in higher-quality products that teams will be proud to share with customers.
With Agile, fact is as good as fiction
Transforming to a more Agile methodology (regardless of the degree of transformation) will almost certainly result in improvements in many aspects of the Software Development Lifecycle. Understanding and planning for the gains will allow for a more graceful and rewarding transformation. The idea that Agile can deliver ‘more’ in less time or with less talent is a myth, but like all good stories, it is rooted in fact.
1 A project costing $100,000 is to take 6 months to deliver and is expected to produce a meager 10% (annualized) rate of return for the remaining 6 months of the year, the income would be $5,000. If it can be assumed that 80% of the value in the project is with the features representing 20% of the work, then simply executing 2 releases (1 after 20% of the features and the rest after 100% of the features) would yield $6760 for the year. Working in smaller increments has already netted a 35% increase in return.
2 Jim Johnson, Chairman of The Standish Group, Keynote “ROI, It’s Your Job” Third International Conference on Extreme Programming, Alghero, Italy May 26-29, 2002.