Innovation is essential for any organization that wants to get a place in the market. However, coming up with an innovative idea is not easy, and once you have one, there is a high chance that someone else will have that same idea at the same time. I have seen this pattern over and over again in the entrepreneurial world, but this should not be discouraging because success is not only about having an original idea for a business but it is highly dependent on timing and execution. Being the first one to get to market is very important, and being able to do it with a product that satisfy the needs of your customers is essential. And that is why innovation, success and agile management go so well together.
In traditional project management such as the waterfall model, a project is divided into multiple phases that follow each other sequentially. There is usually a huge upfront cost in every project, where managers spend uncountable number of hours meeting with executives, stakeholders or potential customers to try to understand what are the needs for a specific product. Then, a plan for the whole project is outlined and very detailed documentation is produced to follow along the product development. But the truth is that this plan is most of the time wrong! Projects usually go over time and over budget, specially when trying to develop an innovative product. When designing a new product, it is extremely difficult to imagine how would people like to interact with it or what would be the most desired features. Intuition can help with this, but it is not good enough if you really want to succeed. You cannot afford to wait for 1 or 2 years for a project to finish in order to start getting feedback from your customers about your new product because, as we said before, time is critical.
But late feedback and a plan that is most of the times wrong, are not the only problems when trying to be innovative with traditional project management. Traditional projects depend on the power of one, deciding what needs to be done and when to do it is highly dependent on the project managers. But if you are trying to innovate you need to empower the members of your team to provide new improvements and ideas. Also, testing is one of the latest stages in product development, which imposes a high risk as critical limitations in the implementation are not discovered until all the development has already been finished and lots of time will be wasted if the team has to revisit any part of the development that is preventing the testing from succeeding and documentation has to be rewritten.
Tired of all these limitations, a group of developers and project managers, early adopters of what was then called "light weighted" management frameworks, met in 2001 to decide on a set of principles that would rule product development moving forward for a more effective use of time and resources, especially in the IT industry. They called themselves the Agile Alliance and the outcome of this meeting was the Agile Manifesto which put down in words a guideline to eliminate the frustrations shared by so many professionals in the industry and led to the emergence of many Agile Project Management frameworks.
These principles value individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation and responding to change over following the plan. If followed properly, many of the limitations of traditional project management are overcome by focusing on inspection and adaption of the product development and enforcing transparency not only among the development team but also between the team, the customers and stakeholders.
It is important to emphasize on the fact that Agile is not a project management framework itself, but a set of principles that are followed by all the frameworks that do actually provide a set of rules to implement them in practice such as Scrum, eXtreme Programming, Kanban, Adaptive Sofware Development, Crystal, Dynamic System Development Method… Choosing which of them to implement will depend on many factors such as the industry you are in or the size of your team. Nowadays, the most popular ones are Scrum and eXtreme Programming (XP). The main difference between them is the fact that XP is more focused on engineering best practices for software development, and Scrum is a more general management framework that can be used in any industry.
Agile empowers the team to make decisions, keeping all the members engaged, enforces transparency and communication between all parties involved and values inspection and adaption along the process in order to deliver the most useful features of a product as early as possible. That is why embracing the Agile philosophy is so important for any organization that wants to stay on the top of an extremely competitive market by providing innovative solutions to their customer problems and keeping their employees productive, engaged and happy. Many people believe that Agile is only feasible for small organizations. But time has proven them wrong as some of the biggest and most successful companies such as FedEx, Intel, Google, use them across all levels of the organization. A very interesting article about how Spotify has scaled their Agile culture with the company was published having more than 100 Agile teams spread across 3 different cities. So, whether you are part of a brand new startup or a well established Fortune 500 company, there is no excuse for you not to embrace this Agile culture that will become a requirement in the years to come if you want to be a leader in your market.