From marketing to full-blown organizational agility, companies around the world are increasingly turning to Agile methods to become more competitive.
For companies looking to respond quickly to change, unlock continuous improvement, improve retention, and more, Agile offers a proven way. In many ways, Agile enables more established organizations to unlock some of the benefits enjoyed by smaller startups. But there are many different Agile methods, so it’s important to understand what they are and how each can help your organization achieve different goals.
* Please keep in mind that when marketers discuss “Agile methods,” what they really mean is “Agile frameworks.” For the sake of clarity, we will be using both terms interchangeably in this article.
Understanding Common Agile Methods
The first thing to understand is that all Agile methods are based on the principles of the Agile Manifesto. That said, there are many different ways to approach those principles, which is why you can divide Agile methods into three broad categories.
The first thing to understand is that while Scrum can be very effective, it’s also quite prescriptive and project management-focused. It’s better for teams whose work can easily be broken down into shorter sprints (usually two to four weeks).
Within those sprints, teams hold daily standups in which they run through what’s happening to give team members better visibility, spot blockers, and ensure the sprint’s goals are met. Then, at the end of sprints, retrospectives are held to discuss what went well and what could be improved.
For teams who don’t mind all that structure, Scrum offers an excellent way to hit goals and improve processes over time.
While Scrum got its start in software development, Kanban originated in the assembly lines of the auto manufacturing world. That’s why, instead of breaking work down into sprints, Kanban uses a continuous workflow (like an assembly line) focusing on helping you visualize your work, deliver value as quickly as possible, and generally be more efficient.
For teams who can’t easily break their work into sprints, the continuous flow offered by Kanban makes it an attractive option. This more fluid structure also makes Kanban very flexible and adaptable, allowing teams to quickly respond to needs instead of having to wait for the next sprint to begin. The Kanban board is also a marvel of work visualization, enabling teams to near instantly get a sense of what’s happening with a team’s work.
Scrumban and Hybrid
If the idea of either having to break work into short sprints or never break it up at all sounds limiting, there’s good news. Scrumban and related hybrid Agile methods try to get the best of both worlds by combining the structure of Scrum with Kanban’s flexibility.
Often this means abandoning set sprints and keeping daily standups while managing everything on a Kanban board. However, there are a near infinite number of hybrid variations out there, as experienced Agile practitioners can play with methods while sticking to Agile principles. Specific functions like HR or procurement often require making adjustments to Agile methods to fit their unique needs.
Advantages of These Agile Methods
Whether you choose Scrum, Kanban, or a hybrid method, there are advantages which unite all of them. These are the core elements drawing more and more teams to Agile methods today.
Better Use of Resources
Most of us who remember working on non-Agile teams can probably recall spending a fair amount of time waiting for someone else to finish something before you could start your own work. This might be visuals, reviews, or approvals, but regardless, this kind of waiting is one example of how non-Agile methods waste resources.
The other main example is how often non-Agile teams will devote substantial time and energy to creating something which doesn’t ultimately meet a stakeholder’s needs. By contrast, Agile methods create a laser-like focus on stakeholders’ needs, creating frequent opportunities for feedback to ensure work evolves as those needs do.
Considering the economic challenges companies face today, it’s unsurprising that so many are attracted by Agile’s better use of resources.
Improved Capacity Optimization
In a world where burnout is getting more and more common, Agile’s ability to prevent individuals and teams from getting overburdened is a major advantage. This is mostly through the planning of Scrum (in which teams decide ahead of time what they think is possible during a set sprint) and the visualization of Kanban (which makes it easy to spot and address when one person is overburdened.)
Then there’s the process improvements Agile methods bring. By regularly finding ways to make processes better, the overall throughput of teams can be improved without overburdening individual team members.
Better Overall Productivity
Unlike some more rigid approaches to work and project management, Agile is extremely flexible and adaptable as long as it’s based on a strong foundation of Agile methods and principles. Even Scrum, for all its rigidity, is always finding ways to improve itself.
That improved productivity also comes from avoiding undue burdens, enabling everyone to see what’s happening (so no one and their work is invisible), and the general feeling of really working as a team towards a common goal.
While Agile can obviously look very different, studies have found that Agile teams are around 25% more productive than their non-Agile counterparts. With numbers like that, it’s hardly surprising that more companies are looking to Agile to remain competitive.
Happier Team Members and Better Retention
Another benefit of the capacity optimization and productivity benefits Agile methods provide is better overall team morale and retention. Taking Agile marketing as an example, our research has found significant improvements in morale and satisfaction.
Those better satisfaction rates then translate into improved retention, a crucial advantage in a world where competition for talent is on the rise. For many, once you’ve worked in an Agile environment you have no interest in going back. When it’s clear what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how it’s contributing towards your team’s goals, you’re simply more likely to feel good about your work.
Unmatched Transparency and Visibility
We mentioned how Kanban and hybrid Agile methods in particular focus a lot on visibility. That focus can be transformative for teams used to working with silos which prevent them from getting a bigger picture of what’s going on. The difference between working from a common visualization tool like a Kanban board and working in isolation without one is night and day.
Whether you’re a team leader who wants to know the status of a project without having to waste everyone’s time asking for updates or an individual contributor wondering whether you can ask someone else for help, the transparency Agile offers is unmatched. Once again, these advantages feed back into more satisfied team members, improved planning, and better productivity.
The feedback cycles and focus on stakeholder value Agile methods bring helps ensure that teams and organizations are aligned. This results in better collaboration, productivity, and employee satisfaction because, like at the team level, it feels like everyone is working together towards common goals.
Unlock the Benefits of Agile Methods
Looking at all of these benefits together, it shouldn’t be surprising that Agile methods are only becoming more popular. But unlocking the full potential of Agile is about more than simply deciding to try it. A solid foundation in Agile principles is key for successfully implementing it on the team or organizational level.
Fortunately, it’s never been easier to gain access to high-quality Agile training and coaching. Check out our online learning platform The Ropes for a host of options for getting started.