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How to implement Agile project management in your organisation

So you’re developing a digital product or service, and you’ve heard you should be using ‘Agile’. What is it, and how can it help?

What is Agile software development?

Agile software development became popular when a group of software developers created the Agile Manifesto in 2001. It’s a way of working that's become hugely popular across the software industry and beyond. 

To understand how Agile works, it’s helpful to contrast it with a more traditional Waterfall project management approach. With Waterfall, you do the research and planning upfront, then build and deliver the product, and test to see how it’s working for users. This works very well for infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. But it’s not the best way to build software.

Rather than trying to do everything up front, Agile focuses on lots of smaller, ongoing cycles of research, planning, building and testing. This means that the team is continuously delivering working versions of the software. While each version of the software might not be perfect, it means the product can be tested with the people who are supposed to use it. This approach can significantly reduce waste by helping the team to make improvements as they go, and giving them the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. 

So how do you go about implementing Agile in your organisation? Here are some tips from our experience at CAST:

1

Read the basic principles

Read some of the basic principles to familiarise yourself with the spirit of Agile. The original Agile manifesto, Wikipedia and GDS are good places to start.

2

Don't worry if it's confusing at first

Don’t worry if getting your head round Agile is a bit confusing at first. You’ll hear lots of terms like Scrum and Kanban. Think of the Agile manifesto as the overall philosophy. Then recognise that there are lots of tools and frameworks people have created to implement the philosophy in day-to-day working (like Scrum).

3

Get buy-in from senior management

Understand that switching to Agile is as much about a shift in culture as it is about changing processes. So it’s good to get buy-in from senior management to support you with this change. There are lots of ways to do this, but it’s often good to start with a small-scale, time-boxed project at first.

4

Don't combine Agile and Waterfall approaches

Remember that for people used to the security and stability of Waterfall project management, Agile can feel odd. It’s important to recognise this and to help them understand the processes you’ll follow. Working with Agile doesn’t mean you can’t be clear about timings, budget and process. But be wary of trying to combine Agile and Waterfall approaches, as often this can lead to the worst of both worlds.

5

Track your progress

Use tools to track your progress through the Agile process. Without the Gantt charts you might be used to, it’s important to have a way to track what you’ve done, what you’re currently working on and what you want to do next. Otherwise it can feel overwhelming. There are a host of tools to do this ranging from Trello to Pivotal Tracker, right through to index cards stuck to a wall with Blu tack.

6

Communicate your progress

Make sure you communicate and show the value of your work as you progress, both to your own team but also to others in the organisation. Share quotes or videos from user testing (or even better get people in the organisation to observe this process). Run regular ‘show and tells’ where others can hear about what you’re doing. 

7

Value people over processes

Agile is about valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools, so make sure you include the in-person elements of Agile, which help teams to work together more effectively by promoting communication.

These include:

  •  stand-ups - daily stand up meetings where the team quickly update each other on progress
  •  and retrospectives - where the team reflect on what’s working, and what isn’t.
8

Put things up on the wall

Use ‘information radiators’ - a fancy term for putting things up on the wall, showing information about a project. It’s good for the team as they can keep track of what’s happening without having to dig through shared documents and emails. Equally, having your work visible means they can physically gather around it to have face-to-face conversations. It also helps others in your organisation to easily see what you’re doing.

9

Learn from others

Learn from others and make connections with people implementing Agile in a similar environment, whether on a 1-1 basis or through things like Meetup groups. There’s no substitute for good advice from someone who’s been where you have and has lessons to share. 

10

Don’t assume that funders won’t agree to Agile delivery

It’s true that traditional funding processes don’t really map onto Agile ways of working. However, more and more funders are being responsive and understanding that flexible delivery based around service user needs is not just beneficial, but often necessary. 

Further information

This blog was written by CAST - Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology

We’d love to hear your suggestions of useful Agile links, guides and tips from your own experience!  

 

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Page last edited May 30, 2018 History

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