The cornerstone of the modern data organisation is their commitment to ensuring a continuous delivery of value.
One of the methodologies that helps organisations achieve this is agile.
Agile is often said to speed up development and enable you to bring valuable products to market faster. For that to be true you also need to use the agile methodology to gather frequent and continuous validation that what you’re developing will actually deliver value to the user.
So, from the outset it’s obvious that there’s a right way to do agile, and a wrong way.
It’s not just sprints, stand-ups and post-it notes
The agile approach is based on a foundation of ‘sprints’ (each often of a couple of weeks length) where work is taken from a prioritised ‘backlog’ of tasks. The amount of work taken into each sprint is defined by the appetite to commit resource and budget.
Throughout a sprint the ‘team’ will often have frequent ‘stand-ups’. This gives everyone an opportunity to check in with any roadblocks they’ve encountered, get some help, and just generally get an idea of how everyone’s doing, or how the project is progressing.
Each sprint is bookended by a planning session, and a sprint review session where the work that was achieved through the sprint is presented back, discussed and next steps decided. And thus the cycle continues.
What sets an organisation that’s truly embraced the agile methodology apart from one that’s just ‘doing’ agile is their commitment to delivering demonstrable value – either to the business, or the user - at the end of each sprint.
It’s about seeking validation
It’s important to realise that the reason agile is effective isn’t just because you work in sprints and are able to ‘achieve’ something every couple of weeks.
The reason it’s effective is because rather than working on a project right through until it’s ‘done’, bringing it out to market and then realising that it doesn’t actually meet the needs for which it was designed, agile allows you to validate what you’re doing and build features that actually help the user.
And validation from the user should be sought as early in the process as possible to confirm that you’re heading in the right direction.
But, let’s look beyond project or software development to understand how a companywide adoption of agile can bring these benefits to the whole organisation.
Become more inclusive and collaborative
By design agile is inclusive and collaborative. Agile teams, tribes or ‘scrums’ are cross functional, bringing in different skill sets from within the company to work towards a common goal.
In an agile organisation this trickles through into the hierarchy which transforms into a more flexible, scalable network of teams, rather than a strict siloing of skills and expertise. Employees become more empowered to make decisions that truly impact the customer experience and business value. And it happens more quickly because the usual ‘up-the-ranks’ approval process has been abolished.
Empowered employees also tend to be more accountable and accept responsibility as they understand their value to the organisation beyond that of a worker ant.
Improve business performance
Agile isn’t just the latest trend to jump on. It can have positive impacts on business performance. When in an agile mindset you’re able to adapt resources and priority to overcome roadblocks, risks or market changes – avoiding that which would pose a risk or taking advantage of a new opportunity.
Some of the ways in which this presents itself includes:
It mitigates failed projects risk – by building deliverables iteratively allowing for modifications throughout the project if required
Reducing over-budget and late projects – by breaking up the task into smaller chunks you’re better able to predict cost and time to complete
Improved ROI – small releases more often reduces cost associated with each release and you see a return more quickly. An agile approach also allows you to keep building and releasing new features if there is appetite in the market
Reduced write-off risk through a fail-fast mindset and getting early user feedback to identify whether the product is on the right track or how to improve it
Higher quality products, services or processes – as you’re building on a proven concept
Be more customer-centric
Constantly seeking validation and feedback creates an environment well suited to customer-centricity. At each step of the process you can check in with the customer, or end-user, to ensure you’re developing something that serves a customer’s needs or solves a pain point by talking to the customer direct.
One common example of this is the beta trial: You launch a minimum viable product (MVP) to a select group of users and develop it further based on the feedback you receive from the them. You can also gain their input into which items on the backlog should be prioritised, ensuring you deliver faster value to the user.
But it’s not limited to these ‘formal’ or ‘structured’ development cycles. An agile approach allows you to react quicker to customer complaints and feedback and identify new opportunities.
Become more data driven
Finally, the agile methodology is also one of the best ways to become more data driven, using those same techniques to make sense of and start using data to drive business decisions.
Data and analytics projects achieve the best results when that same iterative, step by step, build and learn approach is applied. Along the way you’ll identify what works that you can build on, and what doesn’t so you can re-assess.
For more complex data and analytics projects, the agile approach can help you identify and test business use cases and opportunities for enhanced products or processes, and requires you to bring in representatives from the wider business to feed in their perspective and expertise to deliver a successful outcome.
The agile methodology has evolved beyond the realm of software development and can now be implemented across organisations, small and large, to drive project and process development. Embracing agile allows your organisation to prepare for future challenges as you’ll be better positioned to react to change and disruption. And for organisations who want to be able to use their data to drive strategic business decisions, streamline operations and deliver seamless customer experiences, taking the agile approach is the most effective way to achieve this.
Now that you know how agile can deliver continuous value to your organisation and help you become more data driven, step 3 where we take you through overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to using data effectively: dirty data.
Missed the last step? Click here for Step 1: How to discover your business value with data.