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First things first: let’s be clear on the basics

Let’s start by clarifying what the word “Agile” means here: I’m talking about Agile practices, Agile Project Management practices to be more precise. Agile is the umbrella term that encompasses a number of methodologies such as scrum, kanban, lean, XP and others.

Let’s also be clear on something else: being agile doesn’t mean that we do things faster and without planning or structure. Sometimes I still hear people saying phrases like “we need to do this very quickly. Let’s use agile (practices) so we can make it happen”. I’m afraid to tell you that adopting agile practices won’t magically shorten your project schedule. Additionally, agile projects, depending on how you look at them, count on more planning than projects managed using more traditional methods.

Here is the good news: chances are that you are already applying the agile mindset in your business non-IT projects. Or even in your life.

The agile mindset is based on some core values and principles. For instance, one of these principles states that we need to produce work in small iterations to foster frequent feedback and adjustment of direction whenever needed. You launch a new product, you launch the vanilla one first, then you add more features, then you adjust and release a new version and you continue. This pattern is aligned with the agile mindset.

Agile practitioners deliver the highest value items first. You’ve heard about “quick wins”. Exactly, we want to deliver value quickly. Not because we want to prove our ability to deliver, but because this is what maximizes the ROI!

When an organization wants to build a new purchase-to-pay process, or a new PMO, or a new ticketing system, it probably has a fairly good idea of what the project vision is. They don’t know exactly what the final product will look like. How do you plan a project if you don’t know precisely what your scope is? You determine what the project vision is and identify pieces of your scope, build a product backlog (not a WBS), build a detailed plan for the first stage of the project and when you get there, you plan the next stage and then you continue. Add teamwork collaboration, customer presence and finetune some of these techniques, and you may be ready to create a business case on how to successfully build a lean process through the application of an agile mindset.

Scrum meetings — those famous 15-minute daily meetings that don’t accept late arrivals and have strict rules to work — can also be used in your business. Actually, I’ll tell you a secret: these short stand-up meetings can replace many of those inefficient agenda-driven one-hour timeboxed meetings that you and other people hate so much. Think about it.

Disciplined Agile comes into play

Let’s expand our field of vision and check what Disciplined Agile brings to us: it is reaching areas that go beyond the project management scope. Remember that dichotomic view about project versus operation management, defending the idea that projects have a beginning and an end, while operations are continuous and these two worlds are like oil and water and count on completely separated bodies of knowledge to be managed? Now that you remembered it, FORGET it! Although these ideas are still true, now you may need to think about Product Managementinstead. Or, even better: think about Agile Product Management.

Disciplined Agile (or DA), a new toolkit that is gaining more and more attention these days, provides a compendium of practices and techniques that exist to help organizations speed up the results they obtain not only when managing short term projects but also maintenance work and product life cycle-related processes, including releases and customer support.

Disciplined Agile increases your Business Agility. This is far more comprehensive than helping you better manage your IT projects.

Kanban Charts and Post-Its on the Wall

What are post-its for if not to full your wall with ideas, tasks, priorities, concepts, to-do items, things to remember and people to contact?

If you structure the use of post-its so that you can make good use of them, organize your day and your team’s work, this is already an agile technique. We are talking about a low-tech, high-touch tool, a visualization mechanism allowing everyone to see what’s going on, it’s the embryo of your information radiator, maybe you are building a kanban board with your post-its. These are all agile techniques that can be used in all kinds of contexts. Again, not exclusive to IT at all.

Final Thoughts

While Agile techniques are vast and generally easy to be adopted in many contexts, the simple fact that you start putting some post-its on a wall of your office doesn’t mean that you are managing your project through an Agile method. Please don’t misuse the term “Agile” which is already misunderstood by many.

Although the Agile mindset and the Agile manifesto were born in the software development industry, they are now being adopted in many other contexts. Sooner or later it may reach your workspace. So be ready!