Agile is More than Running 2 Week Sprints
You’ve likely heard the term “agile” - it has skyrocketed to buzzword status as companies everywhere tout their agile-ness to recruit new developers, attain more clients, and delight investors. It seems the true meaning of agile has been lost in the hype as a majority of these “agile” teams are, quite simply, not.
So what IS agile? First and foremost, it is a framework rather than a set of rules. There are many ways of running an agile business, scrum being one of the most widely known among the software industry. A well-known feature of scrum is its infamous 2-week sprints - the breakdown of work into 2-week increments that allow for continuous reevaluation and reprioritization of work. Not all agile frameworks make use of 2-week sprints, and - more importantly - not all 2-week sprints are indicative of an agile process (it’s also worth noting that 2 weeks in an arbitrary timeline, sprints can be any length - 2 weeks is just the most common).
The antithesis of agile is waterfall, a method that focuses on long-range planning and lays out the elements of a project step-by-step over an extended period of time. Waterfall absolutely has its place - constructing a complex building would go poorly if changes were being made multiple times a month - but its lack of flexibility is a disservice in software development.
There are many reasons why a software company, especially a larger company, might struggle to adopt a fully agile process:
When the focus is on the resulting product, it is challenging to appreciate the strengths of the process and how concentrating on the journey rather than the destination can lead to stronger results.
Not having a fully defined end product from the outset of development makes investment decisions more challenging to make; it is difficult to measure return on investment for an unknown.
It is uncomfortable to commit time, money, and resources toward a plan that is not clearly laid out from beginning to end.
Agile doesn’t line up perfectly with specific timelines and, as a result, other teams in the business need to remain adaptable to changes in priority and timeline.
In summary, waterfall FEELS safer - having more knowns takes precedence over an opportunity for a better end result.
When a company wants to go agile but is faced with the above obstacles, the result is often a waterfall/agile hybrid approach in which a waterfall project plan is run on a cadence of 2-week sprints. Adopting the 2-week sprint in isolation of other agile concepts just means that there is a pre-determined period with which to check current progress against a larger project plan. The discovery of any opportunities or the need to change direction would mean needing to rework the entire project plan from the current position through delivery; in an agile framework, this would be a much simpler pivot to make.
In order for agile to work, the entire organization needs to be agile - not just one department and not just one element of the workflow. Mile Marker is based entirely on running an agile methodology. Software has a distinct advantage over more “physical” projects - you can get it wrong, then turn around and fix it in a matter of days or weeks; the potential risk is lower and reward is higher for experimentation.
We intentionally bid projects on a monthly rate rather than as a flat fee; this allows us to adapt and shift as the project changes without needing to slow down progress while change orders route through the legal process. Companies that bid a total project price are motivated to find efficiencies after the contract is in place in an effort to save on cost and increase profits. Our monthly rate gives our clients more control over the direction of their project, ensuring they only pay for the scope they have chosen to implement and allowing us to pass on any efficiency savings found. When 2-week sprints are run on a flat-scope flat-fee project, the ability to reprioritize and adjust features is nearly eliminated - running sprints on these projects does not magically make them agile.
At Mile Marker, we focus on short-term goals - we care more about what the experience will look like for your next 100 users than your next 100,000. It seems counterintuitive, but focusing on short-term goals can actually help to reach long-term goals more efficiently. By getting you initial results quickly, we can learn and change rapidly to address new information.
Agile is a lifestyle, not just a process. It is common to see organizations try to tweak agile to meet their existing processes rather than make changes within their organization to truly become more agile - that’s how they end up in the same place as they were, but with project status reports every 2 weeks. With so little insight into the end results from the beginning, running an agile process can be a vulnerable experience, but in the words of renowned leadership researcher Brene Brown, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change”. True agile can be the key to unlocking your product’s best potential, and we would love to be a part of that journey with you.