Agile

A primer on using Agile principles to align teams, over-deliver on quality, and increase customer satisfaction

What is Agile?

In the fast-paced world of technology and software development, speed and quality are everything. Today, businesses are constantly looking for ways to deliver new products more efficiently to keep up with competitors in rapidly evolving markets. Enter Agile.

Agile methodology is an iterative process that gives teams the power to deliver high value to their customers without the cumbersome elements of a full-blown launch. Rather than waiting months or years to deliver a full suite of software products, for example, an agile team delivers work in smaller chunks. This enables teams to collaborate closely with their customers to evaluate a product plan and strategy in real time making adjustments as needs shift.

Read on to find out more about how Agile can help your team deliver value for your customers and learn how MURAL templates can support your goals.


Why Agile?

What do you do as an expert when the systems that dominate your industry are slowing down innovation? Well, naturally, you get together with other like-minded experts and write a manifesto. In 2001, a group of 17 software engineers did just that. They wrote the Agile manifesto

The core of the Agile methodology comes down to these four 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 benefits of Agile for product development are clear. End users get a superior product with a significantly reduced go-to market timeline. Customers also get to be closer to the development process, which reduces risks both for the customer and for the development team. All of this leads to higher customer satisfaction and increased team morale. 

In addition, Agile product management results in increased flexibility and better control. Rather than keeping the development phase and the implementation phase separate, Agile ensures progress by monitoring metrics throughout the process.

Agile methodologies

Of course, the Agile methodology existed long before the Agile manifesto. You can see glimpses of the Agile framework in innovations such as Henry Ford’s assembly line, the invention of the internet, or even, the recent rise in popularity of “citizen scientists.” 

What this means is that Agile principles can be applied to any number of developmental models. Let’s look at two areas in particular where teams have taken Agile methodologies and run with them:

Scrum 

Agile scrum is a framework designed specifically for keeping complex product development and project management on track. Primarily used for agile software development, but applicable to any activity requiring teamwork, the scrum framework guides cross-functional teams to communicate, hold each other accountable, and iterate to deliver results.

Like a Rugby team (where scrum gets its name) trying to take possession of the ball, scrum encourages teams to work together and learn from their experiences to improve. Essentially, it is a set of tools, resources, and well-defined roles that help teams manage their work.

The Agile scrum framework is structured around roles, events, and artifacts.

Roles

  • Product owner
  • Scrum master
  • Scrum development team 

Events

  • Daily scrum
  • Sprint planning
  • Sprint review
  • Sprint retrospective

Artifacts

  • Product backlog
  • Sprint backlog
  • Increment

As you can see, the Agile scrum process is very simple. You can think of the Scrum Master as the glue that holds the team together. A Scrum Master’s main job is to nurture an environment where teams can develop micro-alignment within Agile. The Product Owner looks over the Product backlog and orders the work to be done. The Scrum Development Team then turns part of that work into an Increment of value (or goal) during a Sprint planning session (e.g., in two weeks, we will complete the build out of the onboarding application). The scrum team and its stakeholders then analyze the results and make any adjustments for the next Sprint. And they iterate the process until the project is complete.

Scrum teams use tools like MURAL for product teams to map out Sprints, plan individualized goals, and help team members visualize the big picture.

Kanban

Another popular Agile framework is Kanban. Similar to Scrum, Kanban is a model designed to help teams work more effectively together. Whereas short, structured work timeframes (i.e., Sprints) and well-defined roles are the heart and soul of Scrum, Kanban offers a more fluid and continuous workflow.

Kanban is all about helping teams visualize their work and maximizing efficiency. Kanban teams aim to reduce the time it takes to complete a project and they do this by constantly considering how to improve their flow of work. Using Kanban boards, teams create their own columns to organize how projects flow through the necessary stages. 

A marketing team might, for example, take a blog article from Backlog, to Prioritized, to Outlines Ready, to Drafting, to Editing, to Designing, to Published. Looking at their Kanban board, the team can then determine that it takes one week to create a piece of content and determine where they can eliminate bottlenecks to become more efficient.

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Agile ceremonies

Meetings or “Ceremonies” are the key to making your Agile machine run smoothly. While we discuss many of the Agile ceremonies below in the context of Scrum, they can be applied to other forms of Agile such as Kanban or Lean

Let’s take a look at some of the most crucial Agile ceremonies and how they empower teams to innovate with Agile principles.

Sprint planning

Sprint planning happens at the beginning of each Sprint. The purpose is to set up the team for success. Before the meeting, the Product Owner will look at the Product backlog and come up with a list of priorities to bring to the development team. The team discusses each item together and collectively determines how much effort is involved in each one. From here, the team creates a forecast outlining what work they expect to complete during the Sprint. This outline becomes the Sprint backlog.

Daily scrum (aka daily standup)

These short meetings (no more than 15 minutes) are designed to quickly brief everyone on the team’s progress.

This high-level meeting should be informative, but without pulling everyone into the weeds. Typically, each team member answers three questions:

  • What did I complete yesterday?
  • What will I work on today?
  • Am I feeling stuck on anything?

A simple, straightforward agenda, along with the built-in accountability, ensures success for Daily Stand-Ups. 

Sprint review

Sprint Reviews happen at the end of a Sprint or when a team hits an important milestone. These Agile ceremonies are a time for teams to showcase their work, celebrate wins, and get feedback from stakeholders. It can help to have some simple guidelines for work to be ready to be shared during Sprint Review. To share your work, it must be complete and up to quality standards, for instance.

Sprint retrospective

Because Agile is all about getting rapid feedback and using that feedback to make the product or development process better, retrospectives are another significant element. Sprint Retrospectives help teams understand what went well and what could be improved.

However, Product Owners should emphasize that these Agile ceremonies are not simply a time to complain or air grievances. Teams need retrospectives to figure out how to build on what’s working and find creative solutions for what’s not working. Remember, continuous improvement drives development within agile teams. The most successful teams take their retrospectives seriously.

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Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®)

Now, you may be thinking all of this sounds great for small teams. When you consider implementing Agile principles involving only a product owner, a Scrum leader and a small development team, you can see how a tight-knit team like this could move quickly, make adjustments, and course correct. But you might be wondering how it would work with multiple teams across a large organization.

No doubt, real challenges arise with scaled Agile. The good news is that there’s a framework for this too. The scaled Agile framework (aka SAFe® Agile) is a set of guidelines and workflow patterns for implementing Agile at scale. 

SAFe® encourages leaders to focus on a set of five core values and how best to promote these values across the organization:


  • Alignment
  • Built-in quality
  • Transparency
  • Program execution
  • Leadership

The principles within the SAFe framework will improve the organization as a whole by replacing traditional “waterfall” thinking with design thinking. Cooperation across functional and organizational boundaries will improve as well as efficiency and productivity.

Now if the idea of bringing together multiple agile teams is intimidating, PI Planning is here to help. PI Planning stands for Program Increment Planning. These sessions are events scheduled at regular intervals throughout the year where cross-functional groups of 50-125 people, called an Agile Release Train (ART) working on the same project meet to talk about the bigger picture.

Here is a brief description of what these sessions look like:


  • Teams meet face-to-face for two full days every 8–12 weeks.
  • Teams plan and define the work that needs to be done.
  • Teams review backlogs, discuss what features will add value, and update the product roadmap.
  • Teams identify risks and dependencies.
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MURAL for Agile teams

The best thing about Agile is that it’s flexible enough to implement in any team environment. If you aren’t yet using Agile to unite your cross-functional teams, get started and witness the transformation.

MURAL makes it possible for enterprises to implement and scale Agile methodologies in a visual, collaborative way. Start your free, 30-day trial of MURAL today.

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