Increasing Business Value by Adopting Agile Methods

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Summary:
The prospect of adopting agile software development practices to deliver value to customers faster while reducing feature fatigue has captured the imagination of Product Managers everywhere. But many companies have had difficulties adopting the new agile practices. Some have faced employee or department resistance to change during the transition. Others have failed to demonstrate enough business value to keep the initiatives alive and spread it across the organization. This article outlines the main principles that will help companies choose the right strategy when adopting agile development.

The prospect of adopting agile software development practices to deliver value to customers faster while reducing feature fatigue has captured the imagination of Product Managers everywhere. In the past few years a rising number of companies have experimented with agile practices, hoping to bring the most valuable product features faster to the market and gain strategic advantage. But many companies have had difficulties adopting the new agile practices. Some have faced employee or department resistance to change during the transition. Others have failed to demonstrate enough business value to keep the initiatives alive and spread it across the organization.

This article outlines the main principles that will help companies choose the right strategy when adopting agile development. Process and methodology improvements often face skepticism partly because they are seen as tools imposed by the management. It is therefore necessary to take the time to craft a transition plan for a successful agile adoption.
In order to get the return of this important process investment, companies need to start small by choosing a pilot project. Next, they {sidebar id=1} need to define business value in objective and measurable terms. Third, agile methods and practices need to be evaluated according to their contribution to the business value followed by a careful selection of key agile practices. Lastly, companies should measure the success of the pilot project and chart a corporate adoption strategy.

Selecting a Pilot Project for Agile Transition
Before a large scale or permanent process is adopted it is always a good idea to start with a pilot project. A pilot project is valuable because it is experimental. Companies can learn lessons from the pilot, correct any problems, and gain a deeper understanding of the inner workings of each agile practice.

Indeed, many companies' first exposure to Agile will be during the pilot project. Starting with a pilot is a way of creating a success story. It is therefore important to start with a project that is a representative of the average project—if there is such a thing—in the company.
Start by assembling a team of four to six developers for a project of moderate size. Try to keep the size of the project under 300man-days and the schedule no longer than six months. A pilot project could be built into a real product if successful, or abandoned if it fails. Steer clear of risky technologies and platforms, especially if the team has limited training. Remember, the pilot project should be a good representative an average project in the organization.

Once you select a pilot project, it is time to define its business objectives and measures of success.

Defining Business Value
What determines the success or failure of your product? Time to market? Rich feature set? Memorable user experience? Starting with the right questions can pave the path to understanding the real business drivers behind your transition to Agile.

Let's take a look at how some companies have defined business value.

When Taiichi Ohno came to Toyota Motor Company, he realized a fundamental problem with the way new products were developed: it was a long and linear process. In many cases the labor was fruitless, despite long hours and thousands of yens. Mr. Ohno defined one of the key business values as developing product prototypes rapidly and in a non-linear fashion. It was not uncommon for the company to run multiple and, sometimes, competing prototype projects for the same product. In the course of several years the company developed a seminal body of process knowledge, later named the Toyota Production System (TPS) or Lean Product Development. Through the years the TPS

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