3 Ways to Innovate Faster Using Agile

Agile has dramatically transformed the global business landscape. Over the past two decades, agile practices have enabled large companies to vastly increase the pace of technological innovation. Agile enables large companies to bring new innovations to market faster, improve the overall project quality and helps to boost the morale and productivity of software developers. Fast forward to 2018 and agile has more than proven itself to be the perfect fit for mobile app development, as large companies increasingly turn to mobile initiatives and optimisation as a means of harnessing innovative new products and services.

Agile methodologies and practices have transformed the modern enterprise because they enable large organisations to innovate faster. But getting to grips with agile and creating a culture of innovation is difficult. As a CEO or software development manager, your should consider how your company can innovate faster using an agile approach. It’s not just understanding how agile works, but also a case of knowing when and how to use agile effectively within your organisation. Very often, the best way to inject an agile culture into your company is to start small and scale up. This will often involve customising your own unique approach to agile, particularly when it comes to mobile and learning how to overcome the barriers which actively prevent your company from doing agile properly. If this sounds familiar, keep reading, today we’re exploring 3 ways to innovate faster using agile.

Understand the basics of agile

Many large companies don’t truly understand agile. There is a common misconception within the modern enterprise that agile is some kind of ‘free-for-all’ whereby team members do what they want, when they choose to do it. In reality, agile is neither of these things. If you’re new to the world of agile, it’s important to start by getting the basics right and agile comes in several different flavours depending on how you choose to operate. Each variety of agile will share common traits but differ slightly to offer alternative benefits.

Scrum is all about adaptive and creative teamwork and empowering team members to solve complex mobile software challenges. Lean development is all about focusing on the minimisation of technical and commercial waste (i.e. providing laser-like focus on the most important and valuable tasks). Kanban is about minimising development lead times and optimising workflow processes. This enables executives to choose the right type of agile practice in relation to the company vision and strategic priorities.

The fundamentals of scrum are relatively simple. In order to take advantage of a specific commercial opportunity, big companies can create and empower small teams usually consisting of three to eight team members (if there are more than eight people, teams can be dissected down into smaller chunks). Each team member should (if possible depending upon resource constraints) then be assigned full-time to each sprint. The team are then responsible for working across multiple functions within each sprint and should possess all of the skills required to execute against every task. The team also needs to be self managed and held accountable for every single task according to its priority and strategic importance.

Within each team, there are variety of roles and responsibilities to fulfill. The product owner is responsible for the overall vision, managing an effective backlog, delivering value to the end client and should divide time between organising team members and reporting to key stakeholders within the business. It’s the product owners job to ruthlessly prioritise each task within the sprint. Team members are not only responsible for completing tasks, but also estimating the time and cost of each task (assigning cost to individual tasks is not the responsibility of the product owner) and organise using a specified workflow pattern (referred to as a sprint cycle). The scrum master then manages the overall workflow process and works to shield team members from barriers to progress and restrictive task impediments. If there are impediments that relate to specific tasks within each sprint, it’s the job of the scrum master to enable team members to collaborate and complete tasks according by removing each associated task barrier. The sprint process is designed to create complete transparency, also referred to as a ‘greenhouse effect’, whereby daily standup meetings are conducted to monitor the progress of each task. In order to get this right, teams must manage a tight backlog and constantly think of new ways to refine and optimise future sprint cycles.

When bench-marked against traditional project management methodologies, agile offers many distinct benefits. Working in sprints is proven to increase team morale and levels of productivity. This is hugely useful for large companies who are embedded and old school corporate thinking that tends to stifle the cross pollination of new ideas and collaborative working practices. Agile also helps to minimise technical and commercial waste, by helping teams to focus purely on the tasks that are critical to success and hitting the underpinning strategic KPI’s. This helps to avoid developing unnecessary software features and prevents the occurrence of lengthy, unfocused meetings and the requirement for excessive amounts of technical documentation. In the context of mobile, which sits at the heart of most new technological innovations, agile is all about developing the right features by focusing on what causes users to interact with each app and avoiding wastage. This process helps to improve task visibility and provides complete personal accountability for the completion of each task.

As with all mobile app development projects, success is all about starting with the end in mind and developing a clear and measurable set of KPI’s. Agile requires constant adaptive thought in response to the overarching company vision and in response to external market forces. It requires the ability to define and rank the importance of each task within the sprint in order to develop focused and concise strategic initiatives and the simplification of complex workflows. By increasing the level of cross organisational collaboration, this helps teams to quickly develop new ideas and get mobile software products to market faster, whilst removing impediments and barriers to progress. Developing mobile apps using an agile methodology is the perfect way for large companies to innovate faster than their competitors, whilst enabling them to focus on their core business activities.

Start small and scale accordingly

When implementing agile, there’s a tendency for big companies to over complicate matters by launching change programs that require massive amounts of effort. In reality, the best and most effective agile change programs start small and scale over time. In most cases, agile usually begins with the software development team. In many cases, today’s software engineers are heavily embedded in desktop software development and associated project management practices. The real trick in today’s market place is tapping into the best mobile app development capability in order to develop and launch new mobile initiatives that can help to build brand awareness, enable the expansion of an existing desktop app, optimise internal processes, enable new sales tools and generate lucrative new streams of revenue. It just so happens that mobile development and agile are a perfect fit, and as we already mentioned, it’s from within the software development team that agile usually starts to flourish.

Most software engineers, and particularly mobile developers, are already well acquainted with the techniques and practices associated with running an agile team. This means that companies whose business involve software, are likely to have a headstart on non technical companies when it comes to introducing agile. So in many instances, where teams of software engineers are already heavily embedded in agile practices, it makes life easier when cross fertilising these skills across different functions within each business. Agile usually starts within software development teams and expands into other areas of the company, with the original agile team helping to facilitate the diffusion of vital skills and agile expertise and working practices. Each time an agile project proves to be successful, agile practitioners and coaches will become internal evangelists, helping to spread success stories and knowledge across different organisational departments.

There is a fantastic working case study of agile implementation and practice from John Deere (manufacturer of John Deere tractors and other farm equipment for British and Irish farmers). A man named George Tome was a software engineer who had moved into project management within the company’s IT department and began applying agile principles and practices shortly after the year 2003. The agile initiatives that Tome implemented always started off small and scaled based on previous success stories. The initiatives were low-key and gradually over a number of years, Tome was able to apply the same successful agile principles across all areas of the company’s software and IT departments. This helped to create interest in agile from an internal perspective, and this level of awareness made it easy for George Tome to ‘preach the gospel of agile’ to new and willing participants from different areas within the company such as sales and marketing.

A few years ago, John Deere were in the process of trying to establish how to innovate faster in order to transform the company’s sales and marketing offering. One of the John Deere executives was concerned that traditional project management and software development practices were preventing the company from innovating quickly and wanted to understand how agile could be used to help improve working practices and productivity. On this basis, George Tome worked with the senior executive to teach agile to other managers within the company. One of the major challenges they encountered was the fact that most of the terminology related to software development, making it difficult for non-technical team members to learn. Tome decided that in order for agile to transcend its traditional boundaries, the language and terminology would need to be altered for non-technical participants, and very quickly the internal agile discussion board began attracting hundreds of new members.

To cut a long story short, John Deere, using Tome’s agile teachings and practices were able to start small and gradually scale up their efforts when particular strategies and tactics proved to be successful. This enabled the company to significantly compress innovation lead times and delivery dates for large-scale, complex software development projects, often by more than 75% in each instance. This meant that new prototypes could be developed in an iterative and agile way and launched to market in a vastly reduced timescale. Tome’s agile initiative also helped to provide a new and engaging project management workflow for team members who were able to quickly improve product/service quality. There is an important lesson here for large companies and brands seeking to innovate faster using agile – success travels. If you can start small and prove that agile works, you can create a compelling case that will benefit other functions within the company.

Use a managed team to inject agile thinking

Getting started with agile can be tricky if you’re a big company who have no prior experience using agile techniques and practices. One of the best ways to kick-off an agile initiative (even if your company has experience using agile), especially if you’re developing mobile apps and software, is to use an experienced agency. For most companies, becoming truly agile and managing the associated business transformation and complexities is a long and arduous road. Sometimes the best way to counteract these challenges and complexities is to source external thinking, consultancy and mobile development capability and expertise.

Agile has helped to transform some of the world’s biggest and most successful companies. It vastly increases the rate at which brands and big businesses can innovate and bring new products to market. When it comes to mobile app development, it’s estimated that most enterprises have a significant backlog at any one time of between 10 and 20 mobile app development initiatives. This shows that the real bottleneck in terms of agile innovation, is within sourcing the best mobile development capability. Most large companies simply cannot find the right expertise fast enough, which means that agencies who can embed mobile/agile thinking quickly are in high demand and short supply.

Conclusion

When it comes to mobile app development, agile has proved to be a game changer. When you combine agile techniques within the context of mobile app development, you have the perfect recipe for rapid innovation cycles. But the trick, as always, is finding the right partner to facilitate your agile journey. It’s not just mobile app development that agile is helping to transform. Agile is impacting every areas of our business lives, from HR, finance and project management, to marketing and sales. If you’re interested in developing a strategic mobile initiative, or learning more about how to embed an agile culture within your company, contact Waracle today for more details.

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