What is Agile

An overview of where this project management approach came from and what it means today

Agile is a set of values and principles that was written to make software development projects more efficient. Contrary to popular belief Agile is not just Scrum or Kanban explicitly, it is not a certain set of rules and furthermore it is not a methodology. When asking what is Agile, we focus on the 4 values and 12 principles Agile defines as a guide to a more adaptive and responsive project management.

Today Agile is more of an umbrella term that holds various project management frameworks underneath it.

As long as the framework fits the core values and principles it can be called Agile, thus this list is not definite and still growing. Keep in mind though, that while all of such frameworks are Agile none of them represent Agile explicitly. Agile is not about practices or tools, it is a mindset that helps reach a more adaptive way of organizing projects.

Before Agile

To better understand Agile, you should know what project management looked like before it. In fact, traditional project management approach of running all projects in phases is still widely used today. In case you are not familiar, here is how it works.

At the start of a project, management sits down, divides the work into particular stages like Requirements – Design – Implementation – Verification – Delivery, plans out the work and then executes the project one stage at a time. This approach allows to get a good grasp of everything that will be happening during the project at the very beginning of it and plan accordingly to ensure the team delivers required results. It was first introduced as a way of running software projects in 1956 and is now known as traditional or Waterfall model.

Waterfall works great for static environments and was a big improvement to the previous project management approaches. However, as the market became incrementally faster and more difficult to predict, planning large projects in advance sometimes meant what the teams designed a few months back was no longer relevant and needed to be changed. Software development teams were amongst the first ones to notice this flaw in the Waterfall approach. As technology innovation gained speed, planning out the whole project at the start meant they could be delivering an irrelevant product by the end of it and if changes were made, deadlines would never be met.

It was as early as 1970s when these teams started looking for lighter and less micro managed approaches that could work. In fact, many of the frameworks we now know as Agile started forming before Agile was even a term. Rapid application development (RAD), Unified process (UP), Dynamic systems development method (DSDM), Scrum, Extreme programming (XP) and others were first introduced in the 90’s. All talking about creating a more feature-driven process that can adapt to changes even late in the process.

The Agile Manifesto

With all the buzz going on and new methods being created it was a matter of time before a new philosophy was born. And it did in 2001 when 17 developers met to discuss the need for change and ways of introducing it. What came out of this meeting in Utah was the Agile Manifesto stating 4 values and 12 principles to help guide and ease the process of software development. The term Agile was chosen as it perfectly fit the adaptive and result oriented mindset the values were describing.

When we talk about what is Agile it is these 4 values and 12 principles listed in the Manifesto we should have in mind. The 4 values read:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

It is important to note, that the writers stated there is value on both sides of these statements. However, the values on the left should take priority. To help teams implement these core values, the Manifesto creators also came up with 12 distinct principles to better explain what is Agile:

1 – Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

2 – Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

3 – Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

4 – Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

5 – Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

6 – The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

7 – Working software is the primary measure of progress.

8 – Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

9 – Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

10 – Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

11 – The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

12 – At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

What is Agile?

When reading through these values and principles and comparing them to Waterfall we can immediately spot differences. While Waterfall aims to control the process and plan ahead, Agile is all about creating a way to adapt. To better understand what is Agile, we can summarize these statements into these 4 ideas.

Efficient communication and collaboration.

Little can be done in a company were communication is lacking and Agile really gets that. To get teams, management and customers talking, the practice asks for face-to-face communication and client involvement in the process. Different approaches use different techniques for this, but generally teams meet to discuss progress daily and either have a dedicated customer representative within a team or schedule regular meetings with the customer to gather feedback on the progress.

Working product.

Delivering a functional product to the client takes precedent over planning or documentation in Agile. This means, the team prioritizes customer requests and changes over the plan. To accommodate such approach, Agile teams work in iterations instead of building the whole project from a to z. In most frameworks, the team looks over customer requirements before a new iteration, picks the most important ones and use the next iteration to deliver them to the customer. This way making sure, customer has a working product with the most important features after each iteration and can express their comments on what needs to be improved.

Evolutionary focus.

To make the process efficient, deliver a relevant product and have the right team for the job, Agile promotes evolution in every step. The teams are asked to review their process after each iteration and make improvements for the next one. Client feedback and requirements are reviewed and taken into account after each product increment to make sure the team works on what is needed. Lastly, project teams are reviewed and formed for each new project or even project phase to ensure they are cross-functional and self-sufficient.

Ability to adapt.

All of this allows Agile create an environment that can take on changes in any stage of the project. In fact, changes are not only accepted, they are welcomed as a way to improve and provide a better solution to the customer. Agile looks for improvement and quality in all processes, thus taking in the newest technology and delivering the best possible product is one of the key goals explaining what is Agile.

Agile Frameworks

Agile Manifesto was a breath of fresh air for the software development community, however, it did not describe an actual way of working. Thus, various Agile frameworks soon followed aiming to fulfill the values and principles described. Some frameworks like Scrum were already introduced to the software development community, while many others came after. Even today the number of frameworks keeps growing and expanding the term what is Agile with new regular and scaled approaches.

Agile frameworks are an important part of Agile as they give teams specific tools to implement the practice. In fact, the more described ones like Scrum can even act as a guide into Agile for the first time practitioners. It is most likely due to the descriptive nature and clear processes of Scrum that it has retained the number 1 position as the most popular Agile framework for several years now. However, you should be careful of not confusing Agile and Scrum and make sure instilling the Agile mindset is still your number one priority.

Agile frameworks differ in their processes, tools and application, but they are all focused on iterative, feature driven and evolutionary process. And with such a variety to choose from, each team can find something that works for them.

The future of Agile

Since its beginning in 2001, Agile has come a long way. It was clear from the beginning it would help solve issues for software development teams, but in the last 19 years Agile has proved to be much more versatile. It has been successfully adopted by engineering, sales, marketing, design, accounting, government and many other teams. Proving iterative process and responding to change has become an important aspect valued in various industries.

While software developers were the first ones that felt an impact of a fast moving market and changing requirements, by now this is relevant to everyone. There is a need to respond to new technology, trends and market changes and Agile was built specifically for this. Thus, there is no surprise more and more industries are instilling Agile values and reforming their processes to fit the new ways.

One of the latest developments in the Agile evolution is the growing need for scaled Agile frameworks that describe how to make the whole company operate in an Agile way. As Agile popularity grows, companies are looking for a way to transform their whole process instead of only focusing on small isolated teams and this requires a whole new application and tools. One of the most popular scaled Agile frameworks today is SAFe, outlining an Agile process for several layers of management and explaining what is Agile on an enterprise level.

Teamhood and Agile

best kanban tools

To help you implement Agile values and principles, we at Teamhood are focused on creating a tool that eases collaboration, visualizes the process and allows you to optimize and deliver the best results. With the help of our workspace templates you can quickly create a Scrum or Kanban board to track your tasks or pick an industry specific board and track your process in an Agile board catered to your projects.

Teamhood task board is visual and easy to modify with custom columns, rows and secondary process to track subtasks. Use automation to move tasks between boards and ensure you deliver the optimal end result to your clients. Understand what is Agile tool with Teamhood.

Try out for free, no credit card required.

What is Agile

What is Agile

Additional Resources

Agile Evolution up to 2020

The Agile evolution has been around since 2001; however it has only recently become a method that most of you know and use. Thus, if you are starting with Agile, you are not familiar with the journey it has been on for the last 19 years. Not to worry, as I have a summary of the Agile evolution just for you.

Find out where Agile has started and where it is likely to go in the future.


Using Agile Practices to Improve Projects

One of the biggest issues when managing or working on a project is information overload. Without a good system in place it is very easy to lose focus of what is important and start getting overwhelmed with tasks and things you have to do. Moreover, new things happen every day and thus it becomes very important to keep on going in the right direction. As well as being able to change this direction when needed. These are the two things Agile practices aim to solve for teams all over the world.


Agile Estimations

Experienced readers should skip this paragraph and go straight to the next one. If you feel that you would like to be reminded why estimating work matters, let’s start. First of all, it does not matter if you do Agile or not, estimations serve the same purpose: To understand how much effort or resources specific task or project will require to be successfully completed, To sum up different work units (tasks or projects) and understand full scope of the undertaking, Plan resources ahead, Figure out time ranges and delivery dates, Organize people and Support prioritization efforts.


5 Steps to Prepare for Agile

These days you can often hear managers or CXOs sharing buzzwords like “We must change and become an agile organization”. When it comes to actually preparing your company for the agile approach many uncertainties arise. How do we implement the practice? What steps should be taken to be successful? What challenges can we expect? Does it really work outside of software development industry? Those are just a few of the things new Agile company hopefuls ask and are looking answers for. 

Cheat sheet

Hierarchy of Agile Frameworks

The adoption of agile methodologies has spread far beyond software development since the agile manifesto was created in 2001. As a result, today agile is embraced by thousands of engineering, manufacturing or service companies. The development has also led to rapid branching of methodologies coming from agile theory. A fresh project manager might even find it hard to handle all the abbreviations before he can get on track in an agile company.   If you ever found yourself confused by the number of agile methodologies and their hierarchy, then this post is exactly for you. Let’s start from a cheat sheet with all the magic names in one place.

More on boards

10 Custom Non-Development Agile Boards

With the growing number of Agile users, the methodology and its applications have moved long past the software development field. According to the state of Agile report, the number of practitioners from operations, marketing, HR and sales have made up 30% of Agile users in 2019. However, some are still doubtful on how they could implement these practices in their respective fields and processes. This being especially true when the simple starting structure of an Agile board just doesn’t cut it.

Scrum vs Kanban

Actionable Agile metrics

While there are various Agile metrics to track and measure progress, before 2015 there were none to improve the predictability of the project duration. To solve this actionable Agile metrics were introduced to better understand the execution duration and improve it.

What is Agile

Teamhood is a hyper visual project and team management solution that helps companies to streamline business processes and deliver results faster. Teamhood is designed for professional teams seeking efficiency at work and full empowerment of their talents. Teamhood provides workspaces, customized boards with fine-tuned time tracking, collaboration functionalities as well as visual agile metrics reporting.
Teamhood is developed by Eylean, a project management software company since 2011. Eylean products are valued by its numerous customers globally such as Mercedes AG, Festool, Johnson&Johnson, Rabobank and others.

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