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Working with Agile: a Competitive Advantage or a “Silver Bullet”

Posted on Dec 4, 2018

It is well known that everything in IT is subject to Moore's law, when speed doubles every year, infrastructure becomes cheaper and many new technologies appear. But what will happen if in such circumstances a company loses its flexibility and competitive advantages? Is it possible to save a business applying Agile approaches that some companies consider as their competitive advantage, and others, on the contrary, tend to avoid?

Is it possible to work without Agile?

Experts say that working without Agile approaches is generally effective. If small tasks are solved within a company, and everything works harmoniously, then there is nothing to worry about. However, large companies divide specialists according to departments which leads to isolated teams where each one hogs the blanket. As a result, a previously successful business is overtaken by fast startups that practice a more flexible approach to solving problems. They can carry out experiments much faster, find what customers need here and now. Experts believe that the attraction of Agile lies in its simplicity. These approaches superimpose well on the flat structure of start-ups. Many medium and large companies, and even yesterday's startups, become hostages of the scaling effect with the development of the business. A large number of working and not entirely working processes appear, certain areas and departments stand out, communications within the company become more complex. As a result, the initial business philosophy is lost. It stops being flexible and responding quickly to external and internal changes, risks and opportunities.

Usually the Agile approach is opposed to the waterfall approach, in which all projects are planned to the very end. It contains fixed terms, costs, and etc. The problem is that, in contrast to the construction of a house, for example, there is a lot of uncertainty in IT. This is due to the rapid change and development of technologies, globalization and emergence of new opportunities for companies. For example, a software product or service planned for several years may become irrelevant by the time it is ready. With Agile, only what is needed here and now is done, but the same function sometimes has to be redone several times. After all, often the customer does not know or does not fully understand what he or the market needs.

If the efficiency criterion is labor intensity, then Agile is much less efficient, but if efficiency is being market fit, Agile is significantly more efficient.

It should be noted that not all IT companies are able to apply Agile in practice today. And not all customers are ready to change the usual technology of project management. The first thing that determines the possibility of applying the Agile approach to managing a specific project is the “maturity” of the customer. If he is “not mature” for Agile approaches, then the work on the project approach will be more comprehensible to him, and in the end it will turn out to be more effective (despite the inability to solve the major problems discussed above), because the practical application of Agile requires deep restructuring both in the minds of people and in business processes. In addition, one needs to understand the main difference between the Agile approach and the project approach.

The latter is used in completely different projects. There are, for example, contracts that are rigidly fixed on budget and terms, where it is extremely difficult to change anything during the project itself. In such cases, of course, the priority is the project approach. But in this case, the partial use of Agile approaches will also have its advantages. That is, for example, performing the main stages of the project, you can use the project approach, and solving detailed tasks within the stages of the project, you can use Agile elements. But it is impossible to completely rebuild a project on Agile in such contracts.




Why is it necessary to be flexible?

It is believed that an IT company should always be flexible because it is a  service provider. Services must be customer-oriented, which implies flexibility in project management approaches, flexibility in the format of communication, flexibility in pricing and, of course, flexibility as to what and how a project is done. And, of course, if such flexibility isn’t provided, customers might walk away.

Attempts to solve new problems with the help of old regulations and procedures that coped well with tasks in the past probably will not be successful with new challenges. Agile combines management and leadership. Scale management gives operational efficiency and leadership allows everyone to participate in innovation and propose solutions. Management can then maintain newly emerging processes in an operational effective state. Imagine a company that, for example, is engaged in the cultivation of corn. The year was dry, and the harvest was not the best.

To solve the problem, the management of the farm decides that employees should go out into the field and try to collect the existing crop twice as often. Similarly, in the IT industry, certain offers might no longer interest customers, and there is an outflow of business. Will staff reductions solve the problem and lead to greater productivity in the development of this product? Can employees be relied about to suggest new ideas, take ownership of their development and try to show the world innovation? Yes, there might be some challenges, but the experience would also open up new horizons for the prosperity of the organization.

A competitive advantage or a “silver bullet”?

We can say that Agile is an absolute competitive advantage. However, the practice of using Agile approaches cannot be considered a “silver bullet” that would guarantee the achievement of any goal. Lagging behind the market results in the loss of customers and leads to pressure on service providers, reduced quality, which also leads to even greater loss of customers and the transition to even more authoritarian methods of management, tightening the screws and reducing costs, including by reducing staff.

Agile gives adaptability, the ability to respond quickly to changes, identify and eliminate errors in the formulation of tasks and functions of the created IT solutions. Besides, there is a maximum of opportunities for receiving feedback, which is a very serious advantage. It also helps introduce new information management technologies that require strong engagement of business customers in managing IT solutions based on objective data. There is a need for this, since such management bridges the gap between the classic methods of managing information systems and the critical dependence of enterprises on IT in virtually all areas of work, which dramatically increases the cost of failures, downtime, denial of service, and other IT incidents. And those companies that don’t apply this trend in a timely manner and don’t start involving staff in IT data management could lose in competition with companies that have already learned to combine the approaches of Agile, DevOps and flexible management of information systems based on objective data.

The use of Agile is reasonable, especially if the company involves the customer in the process. And the question is not only in the process of involvement, but also in the fact that the effectiveness of such work is much higher, and the level of satisfaction of customer needs is also growing significantly. The traditional waterfall approach to the formation and execution of tasks could also be used, but it is much more time consuming, since it takes time for the solution to go through all the links in the implementation chain, and then even more time to get feedback from all the links. And then - again: adjustment, launch, gather feedback.

One possible nightmare scenario is if the developer delays in contacting the customer. In six months or even a year, everything could change, including people and business processes. Practice shows that a natural transformation gradually takes place in teams using agile. And in the end, the ones who take initiative and are interested in fast and high-quality success of the project are the employees who remain on the team, and invetably create work that exceeds the customer’s expectation. Of course, this type of skill is a significant advantage.




Experts’ opinions

Gil Gildner, Cofounder of Discosloth

When we founded Discosloth, a search marketing company, we actually decided from the start that we were going to avoid Agile methodology. My cofounder and I had a lot of experience with Agile in the past, and we found that it isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.

We think that Agile is often an excuse for poor ideas: although iteration is fundamentally a great idea, in practice it can easily become an excuse just to incrementally spend a lot of time on a bad idea. It focuses on shipping products rather than great ideas, so every sprint can become bogged down in bugs and problems.

Sometimes, good ideas take time: they can't be limited within an artificial sprint structure.

Arielle Kimbarovsky, Digital Marketing

I'm a big believer in an Agile approach for IT companies! I work in digital marketing at Codal, a UX design and development agency that uses an Agile approach. In my opinion, it's a much better approach in comparison to other methods (say, like the Waterfall approach) because it's more flexible, responsive, and is a consistent process. 

I also think that the Agile approach encourages more collaboration than other approaches, which is extremely important when you have designers and engineers handing off document files or clients commenting on prototypes. At Codal, working as an Agile company empowers us to use the most current technologies and highest levels of transparency with our developers, designers, and clients.

Alan Zucker, Founding Principal

Technology companies can benefit from adopting Agile practices. Agile is a set of values and principles that create an environment where the team’s potential can be unlocked. Agile promotes collaborative relationships between customers and the delivery team and among members of the team. Agile focuses on creating value which is defined as things that the customers want thereby reducing wasted and unnecessary activities. 

The statistics supporting Agile adoption are overwhelming. On average, Agile projects are 6-times more likely to be successful than traditional waterfall projects. Agile is also becoming a major movement within technology with nearly 70% of organizations using Agile at least some of the time. 

The most widely used Agile methodology is Scrum. Scrum has about 60% market share. Scrum provides a well-defined set of roles and practices. By following the Scrum methodology teams learn the values and principles of Agile through execution. Scrum is easy to learn but takes time to perfect. 


expert team


Nikki Shear, Account Manager

We've seen the industry and our client is a company that coaches and trains companies to use the Agile approach. Agile Velocity, a company that offers the Path to Agility, transforms organizations with a proprietary approach to meet business objectives. The result of Agile Velcoity's latest projects for a Fortune 50 healthcare provider is expected to save the company $1 billion in cost savings while dramatically improving customer satisfaction levels. As far as which Agile approach: both Kanban and Scrum require strong discipline to do well. Kanban doesn't have as many rules which is good, but it also can be taken advantage of by an undisciplined team. Both can be abused: Scrum teams could constantly carryover unfinished work or Kanban teams could ignore WIP limits. Scrum's Sprint time box or Kanban's WIP Limit should force teams to figure out how to break things down into smaller pieces. Agile Velocity started as the solution for the IT team and has now scaled their training to offer a holistic solution for entire companies. Their presence within the IT process from their inception proves their seasoned expertise, which could be a valuable contribution to any IT company.

Ray McKenzie, Founder and Managing Director of Red Beach

There are times to utilize Agile and there are times to not use Agile. Within IT departments, specifically development with distributed teams and several initiatives Agile is the perfect methodology to use. Agile allows development teams to work collaboratively and efficiently to be innovative and solve issues. The methodology gives development creativity and shorter windows to move onto new projects. 

When engaging development companies, I expect the use of Agile and scrum to complete projects. It allows for efficiency and addresses critical issues or bugs sooner. Within my company, I like to use a modified Agile methodology for consulting projects for my clients. I utilize tools that are based around the Agile approach like JIRA and I implement daily meetings with my teams to move initiatives forward and keep track of what is coming next. The wonderful aspect of Agile is that it can be adapted for any industry and framework. It is also extremely useful for distributed teams.