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agile as a methodology for getting work done and being human

Nic Easton
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In a nutshell: Life happens. Let’s do this thing.

Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. In the world of human-centered design (and tech), though, it’s not just a way of working. In these industries, agility is first and foremost a mindset. It’s also a culture, a set of values, and various processes. An Agile approach to projects easily allows us to be flexible and adapt to changes in the market through ongoing testing and measuring.

Agility accepts things about humans that are often taboo in the workplace: humans make mistakes and process isn’t always perfect. Sometimes, a phase of the project gets stuck in procurement too long, legal language is edited a couple dozen times, or assets take longer than expected to receive. None of these things should bring a project to a halt.

Working in an agile way allows us to accept that being in a professional environment does not excuse us from the reality of also being humans working with and for other humans. And much like being human in other areas of our lives-- parenthood, relationships, siblings -- flexibility allows us to be more efficient, forgiving, and realistic in our roles while embracing changing realities.

The methodology behind Agile was created by a group of developers with the intent of sharing a more efficient way of working. It doesn’t follow a prescribed schedule of producing features, but rather focuses on the most valuable work that can be accomplished most efficiently right now.

This isn’t the only way to produce valuable work. Some companies take a waterfall approach, in which a project is completed in phases. One thing is completed, reviewed, approved, and implemented before the next aspect of the plan begins. This works well when everything about the project and needed solution is known, yet this approach has shortcomings in complex scenarios, most notably because it’s inflexible, provides poor project visibility, and has a slower time to market.

An agile approach is the best way to produce high-quality work quickly in a way that is inherently human because it leaves room for flexibility when things don’t work exactly as expected. When solving complex problems (what andculture calls “broken realities), you know upfront you can’t plan for everything. Flexibility is a necessity in producing outcomes that address the unexpected.

How does Agile benefit the client? The agency?

In a traditional waterfall project approach, each phase depends on the deliverables of the previous one, meaning you wouldn’t know what the product is going to look like until the end. Both parties are blocked in by the constraints of the contract and there’s less room for innovation and discovery (‘Aha!’ moments as we call them). A partnership is better supported when using agility, where flexibility and adaptability are bolstered, especially when the end deliverable isn’t clearly in sight yet.

Client partners have the opportunity to embrace the flexibility agility gives them while keeping their vision of the product as the north star of operations. With regular reviews of work to ensure progress, clients have the opportunity to shape the work more closely. They can provide more feedback, ensure the product is providing value, and play an active role in prioritizing what is worked on. Ultimately, for clients, an agile workflow means regular deliverables, efficient work, and more collaboration and control on the final product.

Working in this way practitioners collaboratively decide what can be accomplished in a small time frame and break it down into smaller tasks to accomplish. This gives the people doing the work (the most understanding of what’s happening) the power to guide the process, be reasonable, and use their knowledge effectively. It instills trust and accountability, so that the project becomes a labor of love.

Ultimately, the Agile methodology leaves it up to practitioners to determine the most effective way to work, rather than relying on the hope that all the assets, approvals and feedback face no roadblocks. It also allows for things to change and gives room for the product to become more than the list of features in the contract, but rather the needed outcome for client partners.

Agility at andculture

As a human-centered design company, our team of designers, engineers, strategists, analysts, and QA specialists believes there’s beauty in the clash of perspectives. We breathe agility in every project we take on, no matter the approach taken to the work.

By bringing team members together from different disciplines we improve the way we create at andculture, so that value can be delivered to our client partners quickly and thoughtfully. Furthermore, we keep a strong foundation on our company values and the values of the original Agile manifesto.

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Client partner collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

While there is value in the items on the right, Agile values the items on the left more (https://agilemanifesto.org/). Embodying these values makes it easier for us to connect with client partners and develop solutions everyone can be proud of. It also allows us to move past the mindset of “this is just how it is.” Instead, plans evolve as discoveries are made. When a project has many moving parts, it can be difficult to know what’s going to happen in the future. Instead of looking to what needs to happen, agile working relies on what practitioners have already experienced as the basis for decision making-- from project-specific experiences to accrued industry knowledge.

In one such instance, we signed a contract with a client partner to build a software product. The project essentially outlines 10 features we would build-- we prioritized it together and began to work on the first item on the list.

But then we started to get feedback from the client partner and users. Some features weren’t as critical and needed less time than we had planned. Some were conflicting with others. Some were confusing for users. Instead of needing to rescope work and completely replan our approach, we were agile and quick on our feet to adjust priorities and refocus on what could be accomplished. This meant adding new features, changing features and removing others. It also meant testing along the way so we can make sure the product works best for those using it as soon as it launches, not after. Now, this list is updated daily to reflect changing needs and realities for the client partner; we discuss it almost as frequently, too. As experts, our job is to iterate, challenge, and partner with our clients to build a strong solution.

We could have kept going down the path of building the features in the signed contract. But if we did that, we would’ve built the wrong product.

How should you approach your next project?

It’s not difficult to see the benefits of working in an agile way. With technology, constant communication, and daily changing realities, it makes sense to embrace a system of flexibility and other benefits.

  1. Outcome-focused. Agile ways of working, like Scrum, focus on providing outcomes to client partners along the path of a project. Outcomes mean business value delivered, rather than just an output of work over time.
  2. Human-centered: It also means bringing your workplace closer to being human-- collaborating more, acting on values, and expecting perfection in product, not in process.
  3. Problem-solving: In the end, you gain the knowledge of practitioners who have learned how to overcome obstacles and successfully build a solution in any case.
  4. Collaboration through transparency. With high levels of transparency, client partners can be more involved in creating the outcomes. More opportunities for feedback and discussion about where the project is going leads to outcomes that are valuable and meaningful.
  5. Time to market. Iteratively and incrementally delivering value means that the ­highest value and highest risk requirements can be delivered before the lower value and lower risk requirements. In this way, there is no need to wait until the entire project is complete before releasing anything into the market.
  6. Efficiency: Agility means efficiency for your project. Budgets, deadlines, and people love efficiency. That’s why productivity tools are such a hit in the professional world.

If you’re interested in our work philosophy, we’d love to talk more. Shoot us an email at hello@andculture.com and we’ll connect you with our experts.