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"The most successful agile teams combine discipline and flexibility to provide an approach that is transparent, reliable and nimble"

Dan Rossner, PA expert in IT solutions

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Successful agile software development requires discipline

Across IT departments, there is increasing enthusiasm for agile software delivery methods, with recent surveys suggesting a third of development teams are adopting this approach. Yet, agile development, if it abandons all project discipline, does not always deliver the anticipated benefits of a quicker time to market, reduced cost, lower risk and greater flexibility.

Achieving the best business outcomes from agile approaches requires the combination of the discipline of traditional techniques with the flexibility that comes from the agile process.

Effective agile performance requires discipline 

Many teams misinterpret agile guidance as meaning that much of the formality of previous approaches is unnecessary. They adopt an attitude of “we don’t plan, we’re agile”, but this is likely to result in a project losing direction and ultimately failing. Some formality is essential - planning, estimating and deriving an estimated range for a project completion date are all fundamental in agile projects. Pre and post-implementation documentation should be completed, where it is agreed to be valuable.

The experience of one financial services organisation PA has worked for, highlights the problem. The vision for the project was not clearly articulated and the team assumed that the aim could be changed en route. So they began by developing a web trading system, but then found themselves developing an iPhone application instead. Without a clear direction the team’s decision making became unstructured and chaotic. To get the project back on track, they had to take a much more rigorous approach to defining their projects and the desired outcomes, and establish clearer communication with their stakeholders.

Multi-disciplinary teams and iterative working are essential  

A further element in successful agile projects is the need to create multi-disciplinary teams which have all the required technical delivery skills to deliver an integrated piece of software. However many projects still organise teams by technical discipline but this silo approach cannot deliver a complete product. For example, an effective agile work stream delivering a card payment gateway would undertake the design, development and launch of input screens, databases and integration to other systems. They would work within the team to address issues rather than seeking support from elsewhere.

Iterative working is vital factor to ensuring agile methods reduce risk and shorten the time to market. By giving product owners and executives early sight of how the product will work in practice, they can intervene early if the development deviates from their vision. Yet, in a climate of shortened timescales and budgetary pressures, some organisations see interim software versions as an unnecessary overhead. However, as the cost of change rises exponentially over time, the flexibility to revise projects at an early stage is essential. 

To achieve the best outcomes organisations should undertake a staged transition to agile approaches, maintaining core project management practices. These can be relaxed when teams have created a strong track record, however they should never be eliminated entirely. The most successful agile teams will be those that take the time to understand what a disciplined agile process looks like and combine discipline and flexibility to provide an approach that is transparent, reliable and nimble.  

To find out how PA can help you deliver successful agile projects, please contact us now.

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