Agile Guide

Becoming Agile

Is Agile right for your team?

Before we take you step-by-step through the process of implementing Agile in your organization, it's important to consider whether Agile is a good fit. Agile tends to work well for development teams and in knowledge work environments that face similar challenges to software development, according to the HBR. In the most favorable conditions for Agile, the problems to be solved are complex, no one knows the solution at the outset, requirements change, users can provide feedback, and creativity tends to work better than following a strict plan. For teams who do marketing, product development, supply chain management, legal work, or any number of other functions that face similar challenges, Agile may be a good fit. But for teams who perform routine functions—like sales calls, accounting, or purchasing—Agile won't be as effective as a more traditional project management framework.

Pick a flexible project management tool rather than the “perfect” framework

Don't worry too much about picking the “right” framework—being Agile means constantly adjusting your project management process and workflows. Nothing is set in stone. If your chosen framework doesn't work for you, there's nothing to say you can't change it later. But in order to give yourself this flexibility, it's important to manage your tasks in a way that allows you to modify your system without causing chaos.

Many Agile frameworks promote the idea that teams should make work progress and bottlenecks visible and traditionally, they used a whiteboard and sticky notes to do that—after all, your work doesn't get more visible than being on the wall for all to see. However, arranging your tasks physically has the hazard of making your team less Agile. It makes changing frameworks a hassle (who wants to physically rearrange every sticky note?). Not to mention that it's inaccessible for remote workers and can cause old tasks to get lost or thrown away, making it difficult to reference past projects.

That's why today most Agile teams prefer using digital project management tools, like Backlog. These digital tools are accessible anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection, making them an ideal, flexible solution for modern teams. Look for one that has an integrated boards feature, which will make it easy to keep work visible, without the hassle of a physical board.

Start small, but do start

Many organizations drag their heels on adopting Agile, taking weeks to evaluate frameworks and deliberate on which is best for their business. Alternatively, they'll try to launch Agile as a massive change program, forcing everyone aboard the new system—whether they want it or not. Neither is a particularly sustainable solution. “The most successful introductions of Agile usually start small,” writes the HBR. Small, incremental change tends to be more effective in the long run.

If you've decided that Agile is right for your organization, try starting with just a small group of volunteers and allowing them to experiment. Follow a “staircase approach” by changing just one thing at a time—not only are steady, incremental changes more sustainable but they also allow you to effectively measure your progress. By altering just one variable at a time, you'll gain a clear picture of what is and isn't working, allowing you to make effective changes. Once Agile is working well for this team, you can gradually allow it to spread to other areas of the business. Your initial volunteers will become your most enthusiastic advocates for Agile—and they can, in turn, mentor other teams as they begin their Agile journeys.

Create a “definition of done”

The idea of being “done” a task can be notoriously ambiguous—both in software development and in other fields where Agile is appropriate. Sure, you might be “done” writing your code, but have you created test data, tested your code, ensured it's deployable, and written documentation? (Similarly, a content marketer might be “done” writing a blog post, but have they copyedited it, SEO-optimized it, and saved it in the blog queue?).

But knowing what work is done—especially at the end of a sprint or other work increment—is essential for planning and optimizing your workflow going forward. That's why it's so critical to create an agreed-upon definition for when a task can be considered complete. Some teams may find it useful to create a “done” checklist that their members can refer to. That way when someone says, “I'm done,” you'll know exactly what they mean.

Manage resistors and reluctant adopters

Agile has had its fair share of resistors. Many managers once fell into this camp, perhaps reluctant to believe that IT had come up with the solution to their productivity woes. Even the Harvard Business Review didn't write about Agile until 2016—fifteen years after the original manifesto was created. While Agile has gained widespread acceptance today, there will still be detractors and reluctant adopters.

That's why it's so important to take a slow, measured approach when starting Agile. It gives people time to adjust to the new system and feel like they have a part in shaping it. It also gives managers a chance to engage with individuals who might be showing resistance. In these cases, it's best to try to understand why someone is hesitant about Agile: Is it because they like the old system and don't want to change? Have they had poor experiences at other organizations? Generally speaking, being empathetic is a more effective strategy than trying to force a change on someone who doesn't want it. Be patient and try to understand their point of view—they might just need some time to come around.

From “doing” Agile to “being” Agile

Agile is a simple philosophy to understand but one that takes time to master. Many companies start by “doing” Agile—adopting a framework, like Scrum, and practices, like sprints, daily standups, and test-driven development. This is an important starting point, but your Agile journey shouldn't end there. To truly become Agile, you need to adopt the mindset of agility and make it an integral part of your organizational culture. You need to foster an environment where people feel secure to experiment and fail. In fact, in order to achieve Agile, you can't allow “being Agile” to become your main goal. Rather, look at Agile as the means to create better software (or other outputs), a happier and more productive workforce, and delighted customers.

Ready to begin your Agile journey? Backlog is the ideal, flexible project management tool designed specifically for Agile teams. Features like boards make it easy to keep work visible so you can quickly identify blocked tasks and optimize your workflow. With an all-in-one project management and version control platform, Backlog allows team members to manage their projects—and their code—from one centralized location. Get started for free.