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What should I know about Agile Methodology?

If you’ve been doing your research into Product Management, no doubt you’ve come across the term ‘Agile Methodology.” It’s mentioned frequently by those in the Product space either in articles, videos, books or during Product Management classes. All these experts are glossing over the term like it’s something you already know about…but you really don’t. Here’s a quick read to rescue you!

Tiwatayo Kunle
June 1, 2022

Agile is a broad topic but here’s a little bit of everything you need to know about the Agile Process – its history, commonly used agile methodologies as well as the benefits. 

Agile methodology is a Product Management philosophy that is widely incorporated in Product Management and Project Management. The idea of breaking projects down into little bits of user functionality, prioritizing them, and then delivering iterations has pretty much become the norm in Product Management teams all over the world.

Co.Lab is no exception. Product Managers in our Product Management Program are often taught to build lean and to think of the user pain points and deliver value early in the process instead of waiting to deliver one huge ‘finished’ product. So what exactly is this Agile Methodology and why do we encourage its use?

DEFINITION

Agile Methodology is an iterative approach to product management that builds incrementally from the start of the project instead of trying to deliver the entire product at once. 

The reasoning behind it is simple – technology evolves rapidly and waiting till a product is completed in its entirety before shipping might leave you with an outdated product that no longer meets the customer’s requirements. Therefore shipping smaller, usable product features while constantly communicating with the customer and other key stakeholders throughout the building process reduces risk, guarantees customer satisfaction, gives room for flexibility, encourages stakeholder engagement/collaboration and generates faster ROI as well as more relevant metrics.

Product Managers are often encouraged to keep the user in mind at all times and this is especially important when employing Agile Methodology. The Product Manager listens to the User’s Story, draws out the customer’s pain points and then communicates this to the rest of the team in an actionable way. They set goals and prioritize tasks in line with the user’s needs, then they begin to act. 

Agile Illustration by Lynne Cazali from Planisware

The team doles out a version of the product that solves the customer’s immediate needs and then subsequently, iterations to build on the product. During the project, end-user involvement is encouraged, providing visibility and transparency. There is continuous planning and feedback throughout the process, delivering value to the business from the beginning of the project.

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HISTORY

Agile emerged in February 2001 as an alternative to “documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes.” The founders created an Agile manifesto which lists its values as:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The agile philosophy is popular for its prioritization of flexibility and its ability to adapt to change. This makes it a useful guiding principle not just in software development but in other project management processes.

WIDELY USED AGILE METHODOLOGIES

In tech, Agile is the umbrella term for methodologies that are based on iteration. There are various modifications that have grown out of the general idea and these modifications have become terms used very commonly in tech. It is useful to be familiar with such terms if you intend to be in the Product Management space. 

Below are some of the most widely used forms of Agile methodology and brief definitions. Understanding them can help you understand why they are so popular and which works better for your team. Ultimately, irrespective of which methodology you use, they all promote the core principles of agile philosophy – flexibility, collaboration, iteration, short release cycles and immediate feedback.

Scrum

This is probably the most widely used of Agile Methodologies. A Scrum process is distinguished from other agile processes by its specific concepts and practices. The teams work in time-boxed sprints of two to four weeks and each person has a role as either the ScrumMaster, the Product Owner or Team member. The teams have retrospectives at the end of each sprint to assess the work done and point out room for improvement. Scrum is best for smaller teams that are flexible and willing to pivot often based on stakeholder feedback.

Kanban

This is the Japanese word for ‘visual signal’ which makes it understandable when we say that it is less of a methodology and more of a framework for the implementation of Agile Methodology. 

Think of it as a sort of ‘To-do’ List with categories for ‘To-Do’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Done”. The Kanban board can be broken into sections such as ‘Backlog items’, ‘Plan’, ‘Developing’, ‘Reviewing’ and ‘Completed’. Work items are represented visually on cards under these sections and members of the team are allocated to these tasks. The board allows the team to visualise and prioritise tasks and see a task through the various processes until completion before moving on to the next one.

In comparison to Scrum, Kanban is more flexible as it does not have a fixed framework. It also has increased levels of transparency and communication as the progress of any task is visible for all to see.  

Lean Principle

This style of Product Management eliminates any activities that are not adding value to the end product whether these are meetings, tasks, documentation or inefficient methods of working. It’s about doing something when someone wants it and orders it instead of doing the thing and then hoping someone will need it. The Lean principle emphasizes efficiency, saves money and increases profits.

It is based on the traditional principles that production is more efficient when performed in small lots and it ought to be based on demand and not supply.  

eXtreme Programming (XP)

This is well…extreme. It is an Agile methodology that takes software development to the extreme by truly embracing best practices while focusing on extreme quality and extreme responsiveness to changing customer requirements. One of the problems most software development methodologies had was not being cost-effective for companies because the requirements were always changing and modifying those new requirements could cost a lot. It is for this reason that eXtreme Programming was introduced.

The goal of eXtreme Programming is to allow small to mid-sized teams to produce high-quality software and adapt to evolving and changing requirements by transforming development into extremely small but important steps with extensive feedback all along the way. While it can be used as a stand-alone methodology, its full range comes out when it’s used to expand Scrum or other methodologies.

Extreme programming solves the problem of slipped schedules, cancelled projects and costs incurred in changes that often arise in software development projects. Typical of Agile methodology, it involves constant iterations and communication with the consumer.

SUMMARY

Agile methodology was brought up to counter the problems that arose with the use of the Waterfall approach of delivering large products over long periods of time, during which customer requirements frequently changed. It is the preferred option for Product and Project Management now largely because of its success in reducing delivery times, saving costs and making its users more efficient. 

Now that you know more about it, it’s definitely easier to understand why it comes up so often. Virtually every Product team implements some form of Agile methodology to accomplish tasks. This knowledge is also useful in answering any questions one might have had as to why things within the team were done in such a specific manner and also to help anyone new to Product Management to quickly adapt to their team’s mode of operation.  

To gain real-world experience in Product Management using Agile Methodology, visit our website and join our Product Management Program.

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