Is it just us, or is time moving faster these days? Every day, there’s new software to try, a technology change, and new customer demands to keep up with it all. You’ve got a great team. You invest in your systems. But, somehow, you still feel like you’re constantly chasing your tail.
Have you considered an Agile approach?
The Digital.ai 16th State of Agile report found that improved collaboration, closer alignment to business needs, and a better work environment were just some of the benefits businesses experienced with the switch to Agile. All of this is on top of the added flexibility of Agile work practices.
Whether you’re a solo operation or have a project team of twenty, there’s an Agile framework for your business. In this article, we’ll show you how they work and how to get started.
What is Agile?
Imagine you're building a house. With traditional project management, you'd plan everything upfront, like the type of bricks, the paint color, and where each room goes. Once the plan is set, you start building, and changes can be tricky (and costly).
Agile, on the other hand, is more like building with Lego bricks. You start small, building one piece at a time. You can change your mind about the design without causing a big mess.
Agile is all about iteration. In Scrum, an agile framework, that means breaking tasks into small steps, called "sprints". You work on one piece at a time, get feedback, and make improvements. With this iterative development approach, if something needs to change, it's not a big deal.
An Agile workflow encourages teamwork and communication. Teams collaborate regularly, sharing ideas and solving problems together. It's like playing on a sports team where everyone knows their role and works together to score (or, in our case, successfully deliver a project).
If being adaptable, responding quickly to changes, and delivering what's most important first sounds like something your business needs, it's time to find an Agile framework that fits your way of working.
There are several Agile frameworks, or ways of approaching the work, each with its own benefits and features.
The four pillars of Agile (that transcend frameworks)
The Agile Manifesto consists of four key values:
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
It can be too easy to get caught up in creating the 'perfect system' of work. Instead, try shifting your focus to improving the culture of your people. This is a more valuable investment of your time. After all, this is where most of your money is spent, and the people you trust with your projects are ultimately the ones who are responsible for your success.
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
The Agile Manifesto is intended for agile software development, it recommends prioritizing building functional software over creating extensive user guides and documentation. In your business, this could mean working with your clients to evolve solutions rather than aiming for something perfect upfront.
An example is web companies building custom learning platforms to host online training. Creating a custom learning management software (LMS) can take months and cost thousands. With sites like Kajabi and Thinkific, with low monthly fees, bearing the cost of maintaining a custom portal became pointless.
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Much like having fixed internal processes with pages of documentation, overly complicated contracts are also becoming a thing of the past. The manifesto encourages engaging your clients in a proactive and personalized way. If you're treating all your customers the same, regardless of their value to your business, try stakeholder mapping to create communication plans that add value to your business rather than wasting time.
Focus on building mutually beneficial relationships rather than rigid contracts that might deter your customers from doing business with you. After all, companies that aren't seen as adaptable aren't likely to win long-term loyalty with their customers.
This doesn't mean getting rid of contracts. Of course, you still need to manage your risk effectively, but not at the cost of frustrating your customers over minute details.
4. Responding to change rather than following a plan
The underlying principle of Agile is the ability to adapt to what your customers need and how markets behave. Don't build your processes so tightly that you can't change course when necessary. In the popular frameworks we'll cover in this article, you'll find simple but effective ways to do this.
Remember, Agile is all about embracing change and being flexible. The following three Agile frameworks can be adapted for any business (and team size).
Of all three Agile frameworks, Scrum is by far the most popular. In fact, the Digital.ai 16th State of Agile report recorded 84% adoption of Scrum in Agile businesses over other frameworks like Kanban and Lean. But what is it?
How Scrum works
Scrum is a flexible approach to managing your projects. Scrum is team-based, named after “scrummage” in rugby, where the team works together to move the ball forward. Work is broken down into small pieces and attacked in short cycles called sprints. It’s focused on collaboration and continuous improvement to deliver value as quickly as possible.
Scrum works in ongoing cycles with set meetings, specific roles, and a specific backlog process (or to-do list).
Scrum roles and ceremonies
Roles within Scrum define responsibilities. The product owner defines priorities, the Scrum masters facilitate, and the development team does the hands-on work.
These ceremonies and roles work together by providing a framework for efficient communication, transparency, and continuous improvement. This synergy ensures that the team remains aligned and adapts to changing requirements.
There are two Scrum artifacts: The product backlog and the sprint backlog, which are interrelated, dynamic to-do lists. They define the work that needs to be done (product backlog) and the detailed tasks to do so (sprint backlog).
How to get started with Scrum
Now that you’ve got the fundamentals down, let’s look at some actionable steps you can implement right now:
- Build a small, cross-functional Scrum team of 3-9 members. If it's just you or you have a smaller project team, don't skip this. Think of how you can still apply this (and the other Agile principles and ceremonies) in your business. The goal of this framework is to adopt an agile process that can be done, yes, even by one person.
- Plan your first sprint: Decide how long your sprints will be (usually a 2-4 week time frame). Then, create a product backlog and choose items from it to become your sprint backlog. You’ll usually do this in your backlog refinement meetings, but as this is your first one, you’ll do it all at once.
- Do your first daily Scrum stand-up and reflect on these three questions: What did you work on yesterday? What are you working on today? And what are the blockers (if any)? Even if you do this alone, it keeps you accountable to your to-do list.
- Review and improve: Review the work completed at the end of your first sprint. Do a sprint retrospective to review what went well and what can be improved.
And, just like that, you’ve run through the full Scrum process. Simple, right?
Kanban is a visual system that helps Agile teams manage their workflow and prioritize tasks. Kanban aims to improve productivity and efficiency by providing a visual representation of the project's progress. Kanban is based on the Japanese term for "visual card" and was originally developed by Toyota in the 1940s. These cards are managed on a Kanban board.
How Kanban works
You might be thinking that Kanban sounds similar in some ways to Scrum. Here’s how they differ:
Kanban is about continuous flow management without fixed timeframes, whereas Scrum is time-bound by its sprints. There are no prescribed roles like in Scrum, and everyone can contribute to the project board, keeping it up-to-date and organized.
Push vs. pull
Prioritization of work is ongoing in Kanban as tasks are pulled into the workflow based on capacity. In Scrum, tasks are organized in backlog meetings and then pushed into the workflow.
Kanban lets you make changes while tasks are in the workflow, but Scrum recommends minimal changes once you are mid-sprint. Kanban is about visualizing and improving flow, whereas Scrum is about using structure to create flexibility.
A Kanban board includes:
- Cards, which contain the tasks.
- Columns, which reflect the phases of the work.
- Work-in-progress (WIP) limits, which limit the amount of work in progress at any one time.
- Swimlanes that run horizontally to separate work tasks by department or function (such as keeping marketing work separate from the development team’s tasks).
- Commitment and delivery points represent the start of work that’s been pulled into the board and the point at which it is considered to be done.
How to get started with Kanban
Kanban is popular for its simplicity. With nothing more than a board and some cards, you can get started right away. Here’s how:
- Start a Kanban board (on paper, a whiteboard, or online in project management software)
- Add your tasks
- Prioritize your tasks and assign them
- Use color-coding to make statuses and progress immediately clear at a glance
- Set your WIP limits
- Track your progress over a period of time
- Continuously review how the workflow can be improved. Are your WIP limits accurate? Do you have too many tasks on one team member vs. another?
Simple, right? Why not give it a go with your current to-do list?
Lean is a systematic approach that focuses on removing waste and maximizing value for you and your customers by continuously improving your Agile processes.
How lean works
Lean thinking, or the lean mindset, is focused on three key functions in your business:
- Eliminating waste
- Keeping customers happy
- And Kaizen, or continuous improvement
Five core values came about to improve manufacturing processes but have been adapted to suit every type of business.
The five principles of lean
Lean and its five core principles revolve around minimizing waste and improving productivity.
- Identify value by prioritizing what your customers find important
- Map the value stream by understanding the steps and time it takes to deliver a product or service
- Create flow by making work move smoothly from start to finish
- Establish pull: Only work on what’s needed when it’s needed. This is also called feature-driven development
- Continuous improvement: Always find ways to make things better for your business, your team, and your customers
So, how do you implement these Agile practices in your day-to-day work?
Get started with lean
With these principles under your belt, try these steps:
- Take a look at your current processes: Where is the waste? Where are the roadblocks?
- Get your team involved: What can they tell you about current issues? Or improvements? Let your team help. Their insights are invaluable. After all, they’re in the thick of it, day in, day out.
- Start small: Lean isn’t an all-in approach like Scrum. There are no set ceremonies or roles. Instead, it is a more continuous integration of waste minimization and improvement. Just pick a small area of your business and look at how it could be improved to deliver value to your customers in a more straightforward way.
- Check and measure your progress: keep track of changes and measure their impact. This could be in time saved or waste minimized. Adjust as you need to and build on this improvement.
Three tips to make Agile work for your business
Whether you choose to implement one framework or try bits and pieces from each of them, these tips from experienced project managers will help you get the most out of Agile:
1. It’s all about the team
Focus on collaboration. As the adage goes, teamwork makes dreams work. Look after your team, and your team will look after your customers. Make it easier for them to do so.
2. Trust the data
You can’t fix what you can’t measure. Make sure to track all work activities, paying particular attention to how many tasks have been completed and whether they met the planned deadline or ran over time. When you can see where the problems are, you can pinpoint the best places to start making improvements.
3. Use Agile project management software
Speaking of tracking data, use a smart project tool to track your tasks, automatically assign them, and even issue deadline alerts to keep your whole team on track.
Manage even the most complex projects on a simple visual board, where, at a glance, you can get a full visual overview of your projects and their statuses.
Smart project management for your Agile business
If you've had enough of feeling as though you're constantly chasing your tail, it's time to go Agile. Say goodbye to overwhelm and hello to Motion.
Motion can make you more Agile with the following:
- Automated smart scheduling that builds your team members' daily schedules for them
- Better productivity with deep work and focus time built into your day
- Optimized resources with work limit alerts so you don't overload anyone
- Multiple project views, including list and Kanban, to manage projects in the way that works best for your business
Plus, AI-driven task allocation takes the manual work out of managing your most important tasks.
Not bad, right? And best of all, you can try Motion free today!