It seems that the companies we all aspire to be more like are moving quicker and releasing faster than ever before. So, how can the rest of us strive to follow in the footsteps of software giants that release innovative software on the hour? While there may be no single, clearly-defined answer, we do know that many are seeing success with agile project management and development methods.
By focusing on feedback from stakeholders throughout the development process, not only is agile found to be a faster development method, it’s also more effective in the way that it allows and encourages changing requirements.
However, as waterfall is the traditional methodology for software development, teams that are stuck in their old ways might find the transition to agile hard to wrap their head around, so here are 7 tips for teams who want to take the next steps and move to agile project management.
- Identify what or who is missing to make agile work. In order to move to agile, you first have to recognize that it will be process your entire team will have to get on board with and fully embrace in order to make it work. Identify the roles and people you need on your team to make a successful transition. It might be helpful to onboard a project manager, scrum master, or agile coach to help adjust the current workflow. Look at your current team, as well, to understand where there are silos and barriers to communication. Teams that don't communicate will find it hard to be successful. Agile project management works best when this is cross-departmental collaboration, so it's important to work from the inside out.
- Prepare to shift left. Agile will require more testing earlier in the software development lifecycle. Because each phase of the SDLC is done in short iterations, rather than long incremental ones like with waterfall, testing shouldn't wait until the end when new features are fully developed. With a focus on continuous integration and continuous delivery that comes with agile development, continuous testing will be the key to fast feedback and iterative changes that are needed to release high-quality software. Evaluate whether you will need to introduce test automation, additional QA team members, new tools, or something else to help you reach maximum test coverage.
- Poke holes in what you’re doing now. Look at your current planning process, and outline how your strategy will have to change in agile development to allow for more feedback and flexibility. Where are the bottlenecks in your current process, and what prevents your team from delivering high-quality software or meeting short deadlines? This will be crucial to shifting to a new way of thinking and transforming your team's workflow. Familiarize yourself with the different agile methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming. While these all follow agile principles, they achieve it in different ways. Based on the makeup of your team and the objectives you discussed, it will affect the way you carry out agile project management.
- Get on board with sprints and standup. No matter which methodology you choose, a few things will probably be the same, and they’ll help you properly implement agile project management in your organization if you take the time to do them correctly. Sprints will be the duration of you planning -- usually they’re two weeks long but can be anywhere from one to four -- and standups are where you talk about what you’ll be doing in each sprint. Take advantage of these opportunities for strategic planning and collaboration with the entire team.
- Backlog issues and tasks. Identify the projects that currently challenge your team and what you'd like prioritize when you transition to agile. Create a backlog of tasks, gaps, objectives that need to be addressed so you can start ranking them on most to least important and having conversations about future goals. Discuss what is needed from each team member, how it will be accomplished, and what information is currently needed to make it as “done". Once you begin to organize your team and the work that needs to be done, you can start building out detailed tasks and sprints.
- Don’t skip your retrospective. As you adjust to agile and the many changes that come along, you’ll be constantly learning about what’s working well and what isn’t, as well as what individuals are successful with and what they’re struggling with. Ensure that everyone has an equal say in each sprint, so it’s not just leaders and managers giving their two centrs. Focus on how you can improve in each sprint. However, don’t just wait until retrospectives to collect feedback from your team -- encourage communication and checkins throguhout the sprint.
- Be open to change. Requirements change, tasks get de-prioritized, clients and customers change their mind, and feedback will alter the sprint process. The nice thing about agile project management is that it encourages these adjustments. Embrace agile and understand that these frequent changes are improvements that will help your team achieve continuous integration, testing, and delivery. If you feel like you're getting lost or confused, always resort back to the agile manifesto to realign your team with the principles behind agile.
Finding your groove with agile won't happen overnight, but there are certain steps your team can take to make the transition more seamless. For more, take a hint from what agile teams can learn from Netflix.