A beginner's guide to agile

Tony Foggett, our CEO, talks agile and why it is so important to Code.

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Here is what Google says is the definition of Agile.

It’s wrong actually.

Agile is not a project management methodology. It never was, even to the software developers who formed the original Agile Manifesto and brought the concept to popularity.

It’s much bigger than that: Agile it’s a philosophy that we should embed in our business cultures to help us prosper in a constantly-changing world.

What is Agile?

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Think of Agile as a mindset or philosophy formed from a set of values and attitudes which support a more effective way of approaching work. They include trust, collaboration, continual improvement and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change.

Typically what you see are small, cross functional, self-organised / empowered teams, collectively focused on outcomes, breaking work down into prioritised chunks then splitting their time into short fixed length iterations with potentially shippable deliverables after each iteration, i.e. getting through the learning loop of ‘build, measure, learn’ as often as they can to validate the decisions they have made and adapt when they need to.

Benefits of Agile

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For me the essence of Agile is the prioritisation of Outcomes over the Deliverables – planning at a high level, pulling the trigger and then adjusting based on validated learning.

Some of the benefits to this approach are:

Reduction of waste

  • Early feedback & ‘failing fast’
  • Better stakeholder & team engagement
  • Transparency which creates trust

Faster and better ROI

  • Prioritisation and focus on driving business value
  • Early & predictable delivery
  • Allows for change or unforeseen circumstances
  • Improvement in quality and stability of what we output

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But for me all those benefits are short term. This one is more fundamental: you should choose agile because its more human.

Our businesses are built on talent – it’s all my business is: our people and a few computers.

My business model is simple; employ engaged, talented people, get them working well together and they will create value for our customers, which will lead to growth in revenue and reputation. It is a virtuous cycle. It’s called the value profit chain and there is a version of it that can be applied to almost every business.

In his book ‘Drive’ Dan Pink talked about the mismatch between what science knows and what business does, to achieve higher performance by motivating their employees. It’s a superb book (or TED talk if you’re short on time).

Pink disses the old ‘carrot and stick’ model and prescribes a combination of:

Autonomy – The urge to control the who/what/when/where of work.

Mastery – The drive to get better at what we do.

Purpose – The sense of connecting to something bigger.

Agile fosters all three of these

Through empowered teams, continually improving and learning together while being collectively connected to the end game.

Motivated people go faster, they stay with you, and they give a damn.

But do we need faster?

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You should choose Agile for survival, in the face of the evolutionary race that is going on around you and your organisations.

One of my favourite tech quotes is from the Nobel prize winning physicist Neils Bohr who said “Technology has advanced more in the last thirty years than in the previous two thousand. The exponential increase in advancement will only continue.”

I don’t know exactly where or when he said it, but Neils died in 1962. Clearly the disruption we have seen in the last 50 years would have blown his mind.

The technology is advancing exponentially. Before 2020 we are going to see an explosion in connected devices, AI, Voice recognition, robotics and Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) to name a few.

If the last 20 years has seen the ‘information revolution’, here comes the physical digital one.

The problem is we humans aren’t equipped to see around corners; we simply can’t comprehend what is coming because we are linear thinkers.

Don’t expect to see it coming

Even if we could keep up with the technology, that is not the problem: keeping up with the pace of your competition is the issue.

Ever hear that phrase ‘In business, standing still is the same thing as going backwards’. This is one of my favourite videos on the internet as I think it’s a great metaphor for the problem we face:

It’s hard to appreciate you were in an evolutionary race until you’ve lost it. The change doesn’t happen overnight nor right in front of you.

A Credit Suisse report last year highlighted that just over half of the companies on the fortune 500 have disappeared since 2000, largely down to the disruptive force of technology.

My point is that the problem isn’t that we are going faster; It’s that it’s almost impossible to see the speed we are travelling at and predict the change that is coming.

So the best we can do is design ourselves more agile businesses who will be ready, because agility is embedded in their mindsets.


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