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Wasn't Agile Supposed to Fix Everything? Not Unless it's Applied Agile

Tony Scherba
June 4, 2018

Agile is the most common methodology in software development today because it promises fast development timelines with better results, and that makes it appealing to businesses.

Everybody says they're agile, and a handful of companies even go through the motions; they might even have a scrum master on their team; but what does it all mean in reality? And how can you actually start seeing value from it? Despite all of agile's declared benefits, it's not easy to implement, and agile alone doesn't answer all product development problems, especially for executives.

Many years ago, Yeti started out by tackling small projects. We designed, developed, and delivered using the waterfall method that was common at the time. As a small shop with short-term projects, the method worked in a pinch. But as we took on bigger projects, we began running into typical waterfall problems such as blown budgets and extended deadlines.

To tackle these issues, we turned to agile. We wound up executing what we now call a "wagile" approach; a hybrid between the two methodologies; which is how many development companies that call themselves "agile" actually operate. We, too, went through the motions of scrums and sprints without fully embracing the agile way of life. Our glorified two-week waterfalls helped improve product development, but they weren't enough.

Always looking to improve our processes, we shifted our development strategy closer to true agile. We soon found, however, that agile scrum introduced some new problems. Our projects were more flexible and user-focused, but we struggled to provide concrete guidance and timelines to our clients. No matter what we tried, we couldn't solve the disconnect between our strategic plans and our in-the-trenches development work.

That's when we decided to create something new: Applied Agile.

Our proprietary development methodology allows us to account, from a business perspective, for changes in project priorities and requirements. By taking all the best parts of agile and incorporating something similar to our long-term roadmapping processes, we built a process that works for developers and executives alike. Thanks to Applied Agile, we don't miss deadlines, we don't go over budget, and we make better products.

How Agile Became Applied Agile

Executives like to develop multiyear timelines, break them into chunks, and set specific deadlines around each part of a project or initiative. Developers like to develop as they go, adding or cutting features as the project unfolds to account for the unknowns of product development. Applied Agile marries both parties' preferences into a single process.

As a development and design studio, we work with executives and developers on every project. We need buy-in from both groups to design build plans, tweak budgets, and keep communication flowing. Pure agile makes it nearly impossible to pin down deadlines and costs ahead of time, so companies using it often feel like they lose accountability.

Rather than tolerate agile's shortcomings, we added a management layer. Unlike other agile offshoots, Applied Agile doesn't deviate from the philosophy's core principles. Instead, it adds structure, instilling a focus on the roadmap through what we call "Vision Alignment Workshops." In these workshops, we check progress to keep executives and development teams on the same page. In short, we get the whole team aligned on the roadmap and major thematic objectives.

In addition to Vision Alignment Workshops, we include two types of sprints: Roadmapping and Rapid Prototyping Sprints. These are designed to get things moving quickly and address key issues upfront. Roadmapping Sprints ensure we understand the core concepts and end user before building, while Rapid Prototyping Sprints facilitate quick proof-of-concept development.

Pure agile simply lacks some parts of the alignment and efficiency puzzle that Applied Agile provides. In a way that no other development methodology we've found does, Applied Agile marries the needs of the business with those of the development team.

Why We Love Applied Agile

Applied Agile works for us, and we're confident that your firm could benefit from it in the following ways:

Executives commonly complain that developers don't understand larger strategic goals. For their part, developers say executives don't fill them in on how their work connects to the bigger picture. That's why Applied Agile starts with an Onboarding Sprint, bringing together both groups to set expectations at the start and develop a communication strategy for the duration of the project. Then, Vision Alignment Workshops reinforce these expectations throughout the product development life cycle.

Development teams love pure agile because it helps them flexibly tackle high-priority tasks, but it can cause them to lose sight of their long-term goals. Applied Agile shores up this shortcoming through a prescriptive set of regular production meetings. These meetings bring together varying perspectives, focusing the product vision and connecting the dots between short-term work and larger goals.

To prioritize tasks and estimate the effort they require before committing to them, developers play "points poker" at the start of each sprint. Product owners conduct formal check-ins once a week and a few informal checks throughout the sprint, reinforcing goals during day-to-day work.

In Applied Agile, our early sprints establish a velocity benchmark (how much work the team will be able to get done in a sprint) as we build the core components of the product. We call this the Rapid Prototyping Sprint, which we use to produce working examples that check our assumptions before they snowball into serious problems. The goal of this sprint is to test and validate concepts with users before the team spends months building them.

Because Applied Agile prevents down-the-road developer headaches without slowing progress, makers are more engaged, happier, and more productive. Time and time again, that engagement shows through in their work. Developers feel acknowledged and in-the-know about shifting priorities, and executives feel more confident that projects are on track.

Is your organization ready to take agile a step further? Download our free whitepaper, "Introduction to Applied Agile," to learn more about our unique process and how it benefits both executives and developers. If you're ready to align your teams with Applied Agile, reach out. We know how frustrating broken processes can be, and we're here to help.

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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