Agile. This nice and nimble word has made its way into several workspaces the last decade, promising a new set of principles to make your team work more efficiently. Common keywords include standups, sprints, and prototyping. Sound familiar?

But what does Agile really mean? Here is a quick intro, chemically free of nonsense and buzzwords.

Definition of Agile

Agile is a set of values and principles where work processes, methods, collaboration, and delivery continuously are improved and adapted to any changing context.

Agile explained

The concept “agility” involves the ability to adapt to changing requirements in a fast, flexible, and responsible way. Felines are the archetype of an agile creature—just try to hold on to an unwilling cat with your bare hands—the animal will most certainly wriggle out of your grip like melted butter. Felines prove nimble, swift, and deft when stalking their prey. This way of functioning—the ability to reach one’s goals and to get out of trouble efficiently—has been made into work principles in order to achieve better results.

Agile stems from software development, and was made popular by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development by the Agile Alliance in 2001. The world has not experienced shortages of gargantuan IT projects gone awry, and Agile emerged as a natural reaction to heavy, slow, expensive, and excessive IT failures.

The main point with Agile is thus clear: don’t put all your eggs in the same basket at the same time. Do small steps and deploy continuously, as opposed to the standard waterfall method.

See also: Why your digital experiences platform must be agile and flexible »

The rules of agile

Agile consists of a set of values and principles, which we collectively can call rules. The Agile Alliance set up the following value hierarchy, where four pairs were weighed against each other. 

The Alliance stressed that there are also values in the items to the right, but that the items to the left are more valued:

Primary values

Secondary values

Individuals and interactions

Processes and tools

Working software

Comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration

Contract negotiation

Responding to change

Following a plan

As we can see, empowering individuals, building functional products, emphasising collaboration, and responding to changing circumstances are a vital part of the Agile value set, which fits neatly into the Agile thinking as a whole.

There are also more hands-on agile guidance to be found, in the form of 12 principles, re-written here for your convenience:

  1. Achieve customer satisfaction through continuous delivery
  2. Welcome changing requirements at any time
  3. Deliver a working product frequently
  4. Keep a close collaboration between business and developers
  5. Motivate individuals with the right environment and tools
  6. Emphasise face-to-face conversations
  7. Working products are the primary measure of progress
  8. Promote work-sustainable development for all involved parties
  9. Maintain a continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  10. Simplicity is essential
  11. Self-organising teams provide the best results
  12. Regularly perform self-reflection to become more effective

See also: 5 pitfalls when changing CMS »

Guidance to choose methods and procedures

As Mark Shead points out on YouTube, Agile is not a methodology. A methodology is a collection of methods, procedures, and rules for a specific discipline. But Agile is, as we have seen, primarily a rule set meant to guide teams in choosing the right methods and procedures for them.

Wrike features a good introduction to Agile methodology frameworks your team can choose within project management, including:

  • Scrum: Sprint-based approach where a small team meets regularly to discuss current tasks and obstacles
  • Kanban: Visual representations of tasks, moving through predetermined stages to track progress and identify obstacles
  • Adaptive project framework (APF): Work is done and evaluated in stages
  • Extreme project management (XPM): Plan, budget, and final delivery can be altered to fit changing requirements at any time
Example of Agile feedback loops.

We can also add extreme programming (XP) to this list, given that it advocates frequent releases in short development cycles, intended to improve productivity and to introduce checkpoints where new customer requirements can be implemented.

Guide: How to Future Proof Your Digital Experiences

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