12 November 2021

How to start making the change to agile

When making the change from traditional waterfall project management to agile methods, there are many changes to make. What are the core shifts that can move you to becoming more agile?

These shifts are focused on the how of your processes, rather than the what. The benefit of becoming more agile will be seen when these fundamental values are prioritized in each organization. Maintaining these values should help ensure that the processes and practices that are developed are in agreement with an agile culture and strategy.

5 Core elements that change from waterfall to agile

  1. Agile is all about being responsive to changes. There is a core plan, and a major autonomous team ready to adapt that core plan as needed. This differs from a traditional project management approach, where a manager needs to step forward and make decisions, vastly slowing down the process.

  2. Agile is extremely focused on the customers. In each iteration, the product is controlled, tested, and presented to the customer or user so that the team is sure that the product is really exactly what the customer wants. In traditional project management, adherence is to the plan above all. The customer typically won’t see the product until the plan is executed, and the customer is not the main focus.

  3. Agile provides control to the teams at all levels. Agile teams should be self-sufficient and self-manage, allowing them to perform better and faster. This is different from traditional project management or waterfall framework, which depends on hierarchy and management’s control.

  4. Agile measures success based on the value given to the customer. As the customer is the central focus of agile, other metrics are not nearly as important. With traditional methods, many metrics are measured, and value offered to the customer is easily (and often) forgotten.

  5. Agile is highly customizable. The combination of responsiveness to change and highly autonomous teams allows for easy adaptations. Teams can customize the processes as needed, depending upon any given environment. Traditional waterfall style management is very rigid and structured, making change much more difficult.

Gaining an agile mindset

While it’s not mentioned directly in the Agile Manifesto, you will often hear talk about having an agile mindset. This is because agile is greater way of working, that encompasses many, many different methods--each which can look different depending on the team, product, environment, or moment.

Karolien Westerink, HR Director at Ariad and Agile specialist, advises that for agile processes to truly work, the change must be holistic--which requires planning, commitment, and time. “A cultural shift and the change to an organization that embraces the agile values doesn’t take place overnight. You should work hard on it, and on all the different layers of the organization.”

In attaining--and maintaining--an agile mindset, the important aspect is keeping the 4 agile values at the base of all decisions and actions. Adhering to these values is the way to ensure that you are really working in an agile way. From there, the 12 agile principles as outlined in the Agile Manifesto should be respected. This builds a strong base for which all actions can occur.

As long as all practices and processes are based on the agile values and principles, they will fall within an agile framework. The actual methodology executed can vary, or even differ from a traditional methodology. An example is a method growing in popularity: Scrumban. This is a combination of Scrum and Kanban practices, and despite being neither of these two practices, when executed correctly, can be fully acceptable within agile.

Learn more about some of the specific agile practices, as well as some examples of when agile methodologies fail.

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