The Agile Methodology in an IT Environment

By Allen Graves

Agile, originally conceived as a software development methodology, has successfully migrated beyond its initial scope and is now being used successfully in numerous industries. With its emphasis on adaptivity over rigidity and collaboration over hierarchy, it’s easy to see why Agile continues to steadily gain recognition.

The principles and practices that drove software developers to articulate the methodology can also be strongly leveraged in IT environments. Agile prioritizes simplicity and flexibility – it achieves solutions.

Created as an alternative to the document-driven, hardline processes that characterized early software development, Agile is organized around accelerated timeframes known as iterations or “sprints,” that typically last between 2 to 4 weeks. By the end of each sprint, an Agile team produces a potentially shippable product increment (PSPI).

Agile team operations integrate four key components:

  • The product backlog, during which Agile project team members (or “scrum teams”), stakeholders and product owners prioritize tasks, define project outcomes and break them into functional increments.
  • The sprint backlog, which breaks the product backlog down into goals for each sprint.
  • The “daily scrum” or “standup,” during which a facilitator or “scrum master” leads the scrum team in focused discussion of that sprint’s progress.
  • The stakeholder demo, when each sprint’s increment is delivered.

In an IT environment, Agile processes can be applied to quickly detect and remedy system and/or software errors. An Agile IT team typically consists of one or more code developers, an end-user representative, one or more IT architects, a project manager and a business analyst. During sprints, project managers coordinate the completion of code modules by code developers. Modules are then tested by IT architects, adjusted as needed and delivered to end-users as fully functional, error-free PSPI’s.

Whereas traditional approaches require a great deal of time in planning and writing documentation, Agile relies on daily scrums and face-to-face interactions for team communication. Minimizing documentation allows each team to respond quickly to project impediments and eliminate redundancies. The Agile methodology creates highly adaptive teams that can identify and remedy errors quickly, preventing them from compounding over time.

Likewise, Agile engages stakeholders and product owners by allowing them to interact with each functional increment as the project moves along. Stakeholders and product owners experience team progress at regular intervals throughout the process, and increased stakeholder input means better overall business value. The Agile process encourages stakeholders to evaluate and define project essentials while eliminating redundant features. Internal teams benefit from end-user feedback that empowers them to tailor PSPI’s to stakeholder needs, while end-user satisfaction rises.

There are other valuable benefits of an Agile IT environment that will manifest over time. Scrum teams learn how to optimize internal communications, enhance their individual and collective efficiencies and integrate a holistic understanding of each team member’s role in delivering PSPI’s. Regular “time-boxed” sprints encourage teams to develop solutions quickly and effectively, optimizing overall productivity. Moreover, Agile’s focus on people over procedure gives team members a sense of personal investment in the success of each project.

The Agile methodology embraces change, reconfiguring it from an obstacle to a competitive advantage. The result is more flexible and more effective IT environments that are ideally situated for success in a continuously evolving industry.

 

Allen Graves writes about technology and business process improvement on behalf of Villanova University’s 100% online degree and certificate programs.