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Agile Isn’t Just for IT; It’s for You Too

In 2001, a group of men from various software development companies met to discuss and document an alternative approach to “…documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes…” This group came up with four values and twelve principles that, when practiced, would provide people a better way of developing software. They called their list of values and […]

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September 21, 2020

In 2001, a group of men from various software development companies met to discuss and document an alternative approach to “…documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes…” This group came up with four values and twelve principles that, when practiced, would provide people a better way of developing software. They called their list of values and principles “The Agile Manifesto.”

Although Agile originated in the IT industry, and is still often thought of an IT-only methodology, it applies beautifully to all kinds of work beyond IT. I often have students attend my Agile training who don’t know the first thing about software development but are excited to start applying the Agile concepts and practices to their type of work after the first day of training.

To illustrate the wider applicability of Agile, I modified Agile Manifesto values and principles below by parameterizing the software-specific words. (I also changed a couple of constant values for clarity, as indicated with brackets)

Then, I took a stab at creating variables for other types of work I thought could benefit from Agile:


For example, here’s what the Agile Manifesto may look like when applying marketing variables:

Manifesto for Agile Marketing

Values:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

[Delivery-ready] marketing strategies over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

Agile Principles:

With a little bit of modification, most, if not all, of the values and principles will align to most types of knowledge work.


What About Agile Frameworks/Methods?

Scrum

Scrum is the most widely used Agile framework. It is a light-weight process that organizations can implement to help them manage their work. It contains specific directions on team structure and roles, events, artifacts, and rules. The first page of the current Scrum Guide makes it clear that Scrum isn’t just for IT:

“Scrum (n): A framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.”

Scrum has highly structured rules. It requires dedicated, small, cross-functional teams. It also requires work to be planned, executed and completed incrementally and iteratively in consistent timeboxes (1-4 weeks), called sprints. There are five required events that take place throughout each sprint. These strict, but minimal, rules, when followed, guide the team to shorter delivery cycles, higher quality, and better communication. These rules benefit organizations that work on complex, often-changing problems, such as education, government, and product development. I know several people who used Scrum to plan their weddings. And if anything is fraught with complex adaptive problems, it’s wedding planning!

Kanban

The Kanban method is a very simple set of principles and practices that provide a system for managing work… any type of work. Kanban includes practices such as visualizing all the work, limiting work in progress, managing flow, and making policies explicit. Kanban doesn’t have the concept of sprints. Instead, work continually flows through your system. Work is optimized by continually balancing demand and capability, eliminating bottlenecks and reducing the cost of context switching. Productivity in Kanban is measured by lead time (the time it takes to start and complete work) and the goal is to continually strive to minimize lead time in a sustainable, humane way.

Scrum is good when:

Kanban is good when:

While any Agile proponent out there will insist Agile can be effectively used in all kinds of work, it’s still pretty rare to see concrete Agile examples using work other than software development. It’s high time we (including me!) start updating our training material and Agile books, blogs and YouTube’s to be more inclusive of work outside IT. We can’t keep this amazing tool in IT only. Let’s share it with everyone. Start by booking your training today!