What is Agile? A New Technique Companies Are Using to Stay Competitive

Woman putting sticky notes on wall for team to see
November 7, 2018

By: Catherine Liu

With advances in technology increasing, the need for rapid adaptation and adjustment, many companies, particularly those in the technology sector, have turned toward Agile as a potential solution. In a 2011 study of over 200 IT and business executives, it was found that Agile had a positive, significant correlation with firm performance.

Agile is a mindset developed for software development that emphasizes incremental delivery, team collaboration, and continuous planning and learning. As Agile development becomes relevant to nearly all aspects of the daily workings of companies and not just to areas focused on software development, it is important to understand the core values of Agile methodology. Agile was first developed in 2001 in the Agile Manifesto. The Agile Manifesto established principles that emphasize individuals and interactions over processes and tools, a working product over comprehensive documents, collaborating with customers rather than contract negotiation, and responding to change rather than following a structured plan. Agile was designed to boost the motivation and productivity of teams and to increase the quality and speed that the product is delivered to the market.

Agile focuses on continuous improvement and clear future plans that are malleable based on the situations that arise. Although Agile emphasizes being responsive to change, it does not mean that no planning should be done. Rather, it underscores the importance of continuous planning and revision throughout the project. By continuously planning for the future of the project, the team is able to adapt faster and learn from mistakes that have been made. Agile focuses on the Definition of Done, which is a list of criteria based on project goals which must be met before a section of a product is considered to be completed.

Specifically, Agile teams form when a project is presented. Teams consist of a lead who works on overall project management, team members who work on the technical aspects of the project, and a product owner who helps make a prioritized work item list. Agile projects cycle through a process of (1) reviewing requirements, (2) planning the next steps, (3) designing a the solution, (4) developing the solution, (5) releasing the product for testing , and (6) tracking and monitoring the product’s usage in order to find bugs to fix, before restarting the cycle and reviewing the new requirements of the project based on the bugs found. Lastly, Agile teams typically dissipate when the project is completed, and team members can join other teams.

Agile has been used successfully in companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and AT&T and is being adopted into companies that are less technology focused, such as McKinsey & Company. Agile methodologies can be applied to nearly all disciplines, not just to software development. In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article, the application of Agile to multiple sectors such as marketing, human resources, and warehousing is discussed. Agile, when adapted properly, gives companies the ability to revolutionize their productivity, worker satisfaction, and product quality.