In the last 20 years, Agile has become the predominant method for developing software. While most companies today are adopting agile in some form, many complain they are not experiencing the results they were expecting. In our experience, most agile teams are "agile-in-name-only" - meaning, while they do follow agile practices, they do not fully understand why they have adopted it, nor what effective agile should look like. Agile has become popular because it emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and delivering value quickly to customers. However, the point of agile is not simply to be agile but to build better products. The goal is to deliver value to customers rapidly while continuously improving the product based on feedback.
Many Agile frameworks like Scrum are based on empiricism, meaning that teams deliver value quickly and then adapt their plan based on continuous feedback from customers. This philosophy recognizes that predicting all unknown variables at the beginning of a project is impossible, and requirements will inevitably change over time. Only by delivering value quickly to customers can teams get feedback and adapt their approach accordingly. Empiricism differs from traditional waterfall development, which emphasizes extensive planning and upfront documentation to prevent requirements from changing.
The key to success with agile is delivering value to users quickly and adapting based on customer feedback. Focusing on rapid value delivery means protecting teams from too much planning or organizational bureaucracy. While planning is essential, too much can hurt agile initiatives by preventing the team from learning and adapting. An agile approach requires a culture of experimentation, where teams are encouraged to try new things and learn from their mistakes.
Agile frameworks like Scrum or SAFe can be valuable tools for implementing agile, but they are not the goal themselves. Rather, they are tools to help teams adopt a philosophy of empiricism. Organizational leaders should understand why they have adopted agile and what results they aspire to achieve. Are they trying to deliver value more quickly? Are they trying to improve collaboration and communication? Do they need to improve customer satisfaction?
To be successful with agile, teams should focus on five fundamental principles:
Measurable Goals: Teams should start with a measurable goal that aligns with their company's strategy. The goal should provide clarity to the team to remove any ambiguity about how success is defined.
Team Empowerment: Teams should be empowered to work directly with customers and make decisions on behalf of the organization. Empowerment means that teams should have the autonomy to make decisions and take action without constantly seeking approval from higher-ups. Most organizations that are "agile-in-name-only" fail to truly empower their people.
Value Delivery: Teams should deliver value to their customers each iteration. Their focus should be delivering small, incremental improvements that continuously improve the product and engage the customer.
Fast Feedback: Customers should provide fast feedback to the team at the end of the iteration. Leaders should support teams by ensuring feedback loops that allow teams to quickly learn if they are getting closer to achieving their goals.
Adaptive Planning: Teams should plan the next iteration based on the feedback from previous iterations. Customer feedback is vital to validating if the team is building a product that customers truly want.
When agile is understood well, organizational leaders free their teams to build great products rather than measuring teams for being good at agile practices. By adopting a philosophy of empiricism and seeking fast feedback, teams avoid the trap of over-planning and too much analysis. By adopting agile frameworks as tools that enable feedback loops and following the five principles above, teams can finally succeed with agile and create amazing products.