What Does It Mean to Be Agile?

January 8, 2021

Agility, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the ability to move quickly and easily. In the work world, agile has become a buzzword for a set of characteristics exhibited by individuals and organizations that allow them to meet changing advancements or technologies and meet evolving business needs.

McKinsey shares that agile organizations mobilize quickly, are nimble, and are empowered to act. In short, they respond like a living organism. They outline the five trademarks of agile organizations as:

  1. The North Star is embodied across the organization - Recognizing the abundance of opportunities and resources available to us; we succeed by co-creating value for our stakeholders.

  2. Network of empowered teams - When given clear responsibility and authority, people will be highly engaged, take care of each other, figure out ingenious solutions, and deliver exceptional results.

  3. Rapid decision and learning cycles - We live in a continually evolving environment and cannot know exactly what the future holds. The best way to minimize risk and succeed is to embrace uncertainty and be the quickest and most productive in trying new things.

  4. Dynamic people model behavior ignites passion - Effective leaders empower employees to take full ownership, confident they will drive the organization toward fulfilling its purpose and vision.

  5. Next-generation enabling technology - Technology is seamlessly integrated and core to every aspect of the organization to unlock value and allow quick reactions to business and stakeholder needs.

While all organizations can benefit from Agile processes, tech startups can especially utilize Agile project management methodologies to; address the intense pace of technological change, remain competitive in the marketplace, complete projects on tighter timelines, and deal with dwindling budgets.

Agile Product Management


Agile project management is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle. Iterative methods are frequently used in software development projects to promote velocity and adaptability since the benefit of iteration is that you can adjust as you go along rather than following a linear path. One of the aims of an agile or iterative approach is to release benefits throughout the process rather than only at the end. At the core, agile projects should exhibit central values and behaviors of trust, flexibility, empowerment, and collaboration.

According to the Project Management Institute's (PMI) 2017 Pulse of the Profession® report, approximately 71% of organizations reported using Agile methods for their projects sometimes, often, or always.

History Of Agile

During the 1990s, the growth of personal computing created a software development crisis. This was referred to as the "application development crisis" or "application delivery lag." During this period, the industry was not able to meet customer demands and requirements. The average time between identifying a business need and the release of the application was three years.

Birth of Agile

While snowed in during a meeting at a ski resort in Utah in 2001, 17 frustrated software developers discussed that there must be a better way to develop software. This conversation resulted in the groundbreaking Agile Manifesto.

Core Values and Principles

While the participants didn't always agree, they did concur about the Four Core Values of Agile. Each Agile methodology applies these values differently, but they all utilize the values to guide the development process to ensure the creation of the highest-quality, relevant software.

  1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

  2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

  3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

  4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

In addition to its four core values, Agile has 12 guiding principles that teams practice to ensure that they implement and execute with agility.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.

  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

  4. Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.

  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

  10. Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done - is essential.

  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on becoming more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

The Advantages Of The Agile Approach

Agile's iterative, continuous delivery approach has many advantages versus more traditional linear methodologies.

Stay on Budget and On Time

The critical focus for Agile projects is to flip the traditional iron triangle model of constraints and maintain a high-level scope of what software to build and deliver. Because resources and time are fixed, it's easier for development teams to react to market changes and provide value to your startup faster. This transparency of constraints keeps teams honest about a consistent and fast release cadence, a key tenant of agile development. By looking at projects through the lens of the iron triangle, teams can adapt without abandoning a plan.

Manage Change More Effectively

By focusing on smaller iterations, development teams can provide value without getting all the requirements upfront. Upon completing an iteration, the team can review the backlog and reprioritize efforts for the next sprint.

Improved Customer Engagement

Agile methodologies involve the startup through the development process. This open dialog allows them to prioritize where the focus will be for the next sprint. This interaction keeps everyone on the same page and improves client satisfaction.

Increased Productivity

Agile allows a team to utilize resources better and remain productive throughout the project. There is always the next milestone and deadline on which to focus.

A Highly Collaborative Environment

As listed previously, Agile values, individuals, interactions, and customer collaboration. All team members have the opportunity to contribute and share input throughout the process.

Better Planning

After a sprint, the team will have a good handle on working together and how long a phase will take them. This will help with planning for future work.

Key Features First

Agile development allows the team to prioritize the features that will provide the most value to the customer first.

Improved Transparency

Agile is highly transparent. Everyone from stakeholders to the development team knows what's getting done, what's not, and who is making decisions. When the entire team understands the big picture, projects tend to move forward faster.

Agile Roadblocks

Agile processes can provide your development team significant flexibility; however, it is not without its challenges. Key roadblocks include:

Change Is Hard

It is not easy to change the way people think and work, especially in large organizations. Agile methodologies often make people step outside of their comfort zone and overcome the "that's how we've always done things around here."

Lack of Team Accountability

Agile assumes that all team members take full responsibility for their work rather than what others tell them to do. The project manager encourages open communication among team members, ensures the flow, but is not a taskmaster. Not all individuals are as self-driven as others and may resent the accountability.

Poor Communication

Open and transparent communication plays a crucial role in the effective implementation of Agile. Regardless if teams are distributed or co-located, organizations must be sure to implement effective communication channels for the timely flow of information.

Client Engagement

One essential facet of Agile is that customers must be able to be engaged in the project. With certain clients, that can be a challenge. Clients with limited staff and competing responsibilities, such as government agencies, can prove a challenge for engagement.

Agile At Work

Despite its challenges, development teams worldwide have adopted Agile software development methodologies to meet their customers' ever-changing needs. The nature of the iterative approach enables developers to address change and ultimately deliver software in a timelier fashion.

There are numerous Agile software development methodologies, each varying slightly in how it defines the phases of software development. However, each method's goal is the same; to adapt to change and deliver working software as quickly as possible. Just some of the methodologies include:

  • Agile Scrum Methodology
  • Lean Software Development
  • Kanban
  • Extreme Programming (XP)
  • Crystal
  • Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
  • Feature Driven Development (FDD)

Go With The Flow

Regardless of the method used and variations in language, the iterative workflows are very similar. A typical iteration process flow can be visualized as follows:

  • Discover
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Debug
  • Deploy

Tools Of The Trade

The key to success in agile development is enabling flexibility while also maintaining organization. If a software development company does not utilize agile processes or tools, a project could end up with messy, low-quality software. This could result in costly and time-consuming upgrades in the future.

Techbeacon reviewed a number of tools that help organize and guide teams from the beginning as they plan and deploy working code. They shared how the JIRA Agile tool adds a layer for agile project management that interacts with the other significant tools from Atlassian. The team creates a list of project tasks with Confluence and then tracks them on an interactive Kanban board that developers can update as they work. The Kanban boards become the center of everyone's focus on planning how to attack the code.

It Takes A Village - Well Actually A Team

What is an Agile team, and what roles are critical to making them successful? An Agile team is a cross-functional group of self-contained people that can deliver the product (or the next iteration of it) without drawing on skills outside the group. Key team roles include:

Team Lead - is responsible for the day-to-day running of the development effort, especially focused on their specific team's effort. Depending upon the organization's size/project/team, this role is equivalent to a project manager.

Product Owner - is typically the project's key stakeholder and is responsible for maximizing its value resulting from the development team's work.

Account Manager - The account manager's role within an agile, empowered tech partner is to remain connected to the customer and be aware of their changing needs and expectations.

Team Member(s) - teams should include various individuals with programming, software development, IT background, or any expertise that will be of value to the team and ensure that the deliverables are completed on time.

Tester(s) - As testing is a vital component of the Agile process, this expertise is very valuable.

Yours, Mine, And Ours

When your goal is to create meticulously designed, relevant, robust, and well-implemented software, it often requires finding the right partner, a software development partner that is. The right tech partner will bring to the table startup agile development expertise, the right tools, the right team, will share your vision, will help build your product "with" you, and will help you reach your business goals.