Agility Beyond Software: How Agile Principles Drive Success in Other Industries


The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, and the 12 Principles of Agile Software were proposed more than 20 years ago, specifically for software development. But the Agile methodologies are not limited in scope to software development—the Agile approach can be used across other sectors as well.

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, and the 12 Principles of Agile Software were proposed more than 20 years ago, specifically for software development. But the Agile methodologies are not limited in scope to software development—the Agile approach can be used across other sectors as well.

Even the Manifesto alludes to the need for an agile approach in other fields, "This type of [fixed process approach] situation goes on every day—marketing, or management, or external customers, internal customers, and, yes, even developers..." In this article, learn what “agile” means, how agile compares with “lean”, and how the internet and web have necessitated an agile approach.

Agile Means Quick

Agile means quick, resourceful, and adaptable. One could be agile in one's approach to software development without even knowing about The Agile Manifesto. What the agile software principles do is formalize an agile software development process so that software developers don't have to discover new innovative approaches on their own but instead use the agile methodologies established in the Agile Manifesto in their software development.

Lightweight and Lean

The emphasis on lightweight methodologies is not unique to software development. In fact, approaches to make product management lightweight have been used years before agile software development. Product management has long sought to keep up with customer needs. The "lean principles" were proposed by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones in 1996 as follows:

  1. Find and specify the value the customer desires.
  2. Identify or map the value stream, which starts with finding customer needs and transforms a product to meet those needs.
  3. Create a workflow to implement the value stream.
  4. Establish pull between the different phases of the product, from development to delivery, to provide a continuous flow.
  5. Optimize the process to minimize the use of resources, time, and information needed to fulfill a customer's needs.

The Lean Enterprise Institute offers practical advice on the Lean approach and methodology.

Agile Is Not the Same as Lean

While the agile principles are closely related to the lean principles, they are not the same:

Adopts methods and processes to generate and deliver valueTuned to, and adapts to, customer needs
Strives to reduce waste and enhance the value of a productTuned more to uncertainty in customer requirements

Agile strives to meet the changing requirements of a customer incrementally based on customer feedback. Agile strives to respond to change quickly while lean discovers methods to make the process of delivering value more efficient and timely.

But agile and lean have a lot in common, such as fast delivery, continuous improvement, and team collaboration.

Transition to the Web

The mid-1990s experienced a transition to the world wide web (WWW) as a new platform for companies both large and small. In 1994, the Agile Competitors and Virtual Organizations: Strategies for Enriching the Customer by Steven L. Goldman, Roger N. Nagel, and Kenneth Preiss proposed agile approaches that were not well known or used at the time. Agile was proposed as an approach to make companies thrive in an environment of continuous, unpredictable change. To be “agile,” the conventional emphasis on mass-production is discouraged in favor of improving the design. Continuous design optimization becomes an important aspect of a holistic production process.

Next, we explore some examples of how other sectors have benefited from the agile approach.

Agile Book Publishing

Book publishing has seen a huge transition in the past decade. Earlier, a publisher printed a fixed number of copies even before a single book was sold and made the book available to wholesale distributors, and retailers. But, the mass printing approach was not agile because of the following reasons:

  1. Book demand is not predictable
  2. Book retailers have limited bookshelf space to display all the new books published
  3. Huge logistics are involved in bringing large number of book copies to a retailer

In recent years, most publishers have adopted an agile approach. A publisher prints only very few copies for promotion, and most publishing is based on print-on-demand. The print-on-demand model of publishing is an agile approach as it avoids printing copies that may not sell.

Agile Software Delivery

Agile software delivery means delivering software more frequently and making incremental changes to software based on customer needs and feedback. Agile delivery is not the same as agile software development, which is more about making the process of development more tuned to rapidly changing requirements.

As an example of agile software delivery, Java updated its release cadence of a new version from every three years to a new version every six months. A new “major release” every three years has been replaced with a new “feature release” every six months. The main benefits of the agile software delivery approach with the Java release cadence as a model are:

  • Users don’t have to wait 3 years for a new version and features
  • Preview features are introduced in the “feature releases,” and the preview features are improved over subsequent feature releases
  • New features are introduced as they become available, and users don’t have to adopt more than a few features at a time, if they choose to

A major version is still released every three years and has Long Term Support (LTS).

Agile Hiring

Hiring and recruitment has benefited greatly from using an agile approach. An agile hiring process is faster, collaborative, and incremental. Rather than conduct one interview covering all aspects, the hiring process is divided into multiple interviews with each exploring one aspect. As an example, the first screening interview may explore general interest and suitability. A subsequent interview may be more technical. The hiring process is collaborative as each interviewer leaves notes and recommendations for subsequent hiring team members. The hiring process is incremental and proceeds to the next stage only if the initial interviews are successful. The hiring process can respond to the changing requirements of the hiring company quickly by introducing new intermediate interviews and new hiring team members.

User Comments

1 comment
Maria White's picture

As a reader passionate about continuous and effective improvement, I found this article on the Agile Manifesto and its application beyond software development truly enlightening. It is remarkable to think that the principles outlined more than two decades ago are still so relevant and applicable across so many different sectors. The Manifesto's recognition of the need for agility in areas such as marketing, management and customer relations underscores the universality of these concepts.

February 15, 2024 - 2:05am

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