MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Take an Agile approach to projects

Could a more flexible apprach to project planning lead to faster results? Here are ten top tips.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Predicting the future is a risky business. We live in a fast-changing world, so companies that insist on sticking to a pre-ordained strategy, come what may, run the risk of being overtaken by events. So is it time to take a different approach to project planning? Rather than thinking about a start, a middle and an end, one alternative is to embrace Agile working - which encourages enhancements and revisions on a daily basis, with the aim of making the development cycle faster. We asked Agile enthusiast Martin McNulty of digital agency Forward3D for his top tips...

1. Don’t obsess about perfection
Waiting for something to become perfect can mean you spend a lot of time developing a service or product that in the end, no one is interested in buying. Sometimes ‘defect prevention’ kills good ideas and ensures bad ideas are executed perfectly. Don’t be afraid to experiment before you reach perfection – you might just save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long run.

2. Empower people
Does the person signing off on a decision really know more than the person making the recommendation? If not, it is time to empower the person making the recommendation to ‘just do it’.

3. Remove reviews
Faster feedback yields higher quality but agile defines feedback as the use of an item by the next step in the process – not yet another review of its functionality. Swap out reviews and replace them with feedback direct from your customer.

4. Eliminate waiting time
Waiting is expensive and the cost is often hidden. We often waste hours, days and sometimes even weeks waiting for someone or something to become available. Look for alternatives and pursue other activities – never stay still.

5. Give your staff some breathing room
Agile focuses on speeding up delivery times, not on individual utilisation. When everyone is fully busy, you are actually costing your business sales. Imagine you are in line at the supermarket and all the check-out staff are fully busy - the supermarket owners must be happy all the staff are being so perfectly utilised. What marvellous planning! However, customers put down their goods and walk away because the queues are growing and the process is taking too long. The cost of having everyone busy may not be so clear in your business, but don’t doubt its existence. Your customers are going elsewhere because it takes too long to complete the whole process. Recall the Amazon one-click sales process if you doubt the value of a rapid, complete delivery process. Some slack staff time is a sign of a healthy process, not the other way around.

6. Mix your teams up
When a crisis arises, a business will put a special team in place to solve it. The team is drawn from across the organisation and the participants are empowered to act swiftly. This is a very productive environment but for some reason, when the crisis is over, everyone goes back to their old desks and their old procedures. Why? Didn’t we appreciate how productive they were when they sat beside each other and shared the problem? Sitting various disciplines together with a common purpose is a productive, every-day technique in Agile.

7. Don’t specialise
Contrary to perceived wisdom, knowledge transfer does not actually produce value for your business. Moving information from one head to another head does not create a product or a service. It simply becomes a necessary step when lines of responsibility are drawn too crisply – something that a business often does under the mistaken impression that a specialist works faster and can produce more. Yes, it is easier to judge the individual productivity and it may be easier to write the job description, but the delivery time is suffering by knowledge transfer sessions. It is much faster if a single worker can implement multiple stages of production process unassisted.

8. Embrace discomfort
Innovation occurs in zones of discomfort. Working with the same person everyday, year after year, will not produce a new way of working. The Agile approach seeks close, heterogeneous working relationships. Ideas abound in this rich layer of discomfort as each party brings their different experiences to the table and shares best practice.

9. Speed up your delivery time
Delivery is the true crucible for gaining experience. As well-intentioned or visionary as a product owner seems, there is nothing like the harsh reality that occurs when something is actually delivered to the marketplace. Forgo the endless meetings of hand-waving, and forgo the reviews and sign-offs designed to protect reputations and assign future blame. Focus instead on delivering your product or services to your customers and trust in their feedback.

10. Reward change

Instead of being a slave to the project plan, reward employees for identifying changes. Fast feedback is also about fast failure. Eliminating unprofitable strategies early on in a project and being prepared to change direction at any time may feel inefficient. But in a fast moving world, it’s a far more effective route to ensuring success.

Martin McNulty is Client Services Director at Forward3D.

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