Last month saw a lively bunch of people retire from the fading afternoon sun to attend our monthly Digital Doughnut event, ‘Agile and Unconventional’. As it was my first DD event I researched Agile for Dummies and discovered that Agile is ‘a more modern, flexible project management methodology compared with traditional, rigid frameworks such as Waterfall. I was keen to sit near the front for this one and bring myself up to speed, but to start, I introduced myself to the other attendees and got stuck into some networking.
After a glass of wine and a half an hour, I’d mingled with chatty digital marketers working in a variety of areas; not-for-profit, loyalty marketing, site development, web analytics and a Ukraine based Software Company ELEKS experimenting with wearable tech like Google Glass (see their ‘new kind of sports’ video demo here). In Hoxton, Zigfrid’s music and bar ensured a ‘club’ feel with one participant coming all the way from Bristol just for the event.
The speakers were: James Cannings, CTO at MMT Digital, explaining why Agile software development is king to get to market quickly and then make rapid, iterative updates, and Damian Horner, Ideas Gun at RVTV, revealing how their slightly anarchic approach has allowed them to build up massive interest in a product they haven’t actually launched yet.
Agile as a hot topic is well known to developers and also to digital department heads. A recent reference on CIO.co.uk is a slideshow “Machiavelli’s 9-point guide to being a CIO” using quotes from The Prince to reflect ways of behaving as a modern business technology leader. Point eight was ‘Agile over Waterfall’.
“Benefits must be conferred gradually; and in that way they will taste better.”
What is Agile? The Mountain Goat Software Company describes it as; “When looking at the agile process, it is important to understand that agile is an umbrella term used to describe a general approach to software development. All agile methods emphasize teamwork, frequent deliveries of working software, close customer collaboration, and the ability to respond quickly to change.” Whereas Waterfall is a classically linear and sequential approach based on a desire for predictability.
If you haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t) the Agile Manifesto was produced in 2001 when 17 people met in a ski resort in Utah to discuss new ways of software development methods as they were fed up with the industry delivering software using traditional approaches. First speaker James keeps it real. “Our approach is to talk to people rather than sending them long email communications.”
How does James sell Agile to his clients? “The problem is that most companies apply the Agile framework but continue to work in a Waterfall type way. They iterate towards the solution that they originally felt that they wanted.” It’s this fixation on a predetermined end-product that leaves little room to remain competitive when keeping up with the accelerating rate of change in the marketplace. Essentially, Agile allows for a quicker offering to market by developing software faster, and at lower costs.
Breaking it down into its components, James spoke of Agile disciplines being scrums and sprints – with scrum projects split into phases of three to four sprints. The barrier is that “doing scrum as it’s actually defined usually comes into conflict with existing habits at established non-Agile organizations” says Agile Methodology. The experience results in building a good team bond, the developers are engaged and it’s a fun way to work, if you can convince your clients to engage in a disruptive process.
In a post-Fordist world it’s no longer efficient to wait for your product at the end of the line. You need to build a product you can use at each stage. As James emphasised with the car vs bikes slide, you wouldn’t necessarily want to end up with a car if a motorbike is going to be a more appropriate way to reach your destination.