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Sean McGrath
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Introduction To Agile for SMBs

Just because your company is small doesn't mean it's following the principles--or gaining the benefits--of Agile development.

Nina Bjornstad, Country Manager at Google for Work, UK&I, will be presenting Building an Agile Business by Transforming IT at Interop London in June. Interop London will take place 16 - 18 June at ExCeL London. Find out more and register here. Interop London

In February 2001, seventeen software developers gathered at a ski resort in Utah to discuss the evolution of software development methods.

Dissatisfied by traditional development processes, this group sought an alternative vision.

The result of those discussions was the Agile manifesto, now known the world over.

In a few simple sentences that outlined a set of common ideas, this small group of programmers fundamentally redefined how businesses develop software.

The manifesto reads:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

               Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

               Working software over comprehensive documentation

               Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

               Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

This almost poetic description of the Agile ethos has had a profound impact on how software is developed. To understand why, it’s important to know what came before it: the waterfall model.

The waterfall model is a sequential approach to development and is very much a top-down way of working. There is one goal, and that is to produce a finished piece of software. Team leaders shoulder much of the responsibility, signing off each stage of work from conception right through to implementation.

While this approach provided clear organizational control, it often resulted in software projects that were over budget and/or over deadline.

It also did not account for the ever-changing needs of both the user and the market. By the time a piece of software went out the door, the world around it may have changed ten times over.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Agile. Agile is a time-boxed, iterative approach to software development. Rather than working directly towards an end goal, Agile works in sprints. The output of each sprint is working code that can be used to respond to changing user requirements.

Instead of a top-down model, Agile calls for a tightly integrated team, where developers, testers, project managers, and the customer all work towards a common goal, collaborating daily. Open communication is key, with everyone involved able to provide feedback quickly.

Agile is about anticipating change and building strategic and operational flexibility into the development process to adapt to change in real time.

Small Does Not Mean Agile

One might assume that small and medium-size businesses practice Agile by default. Smaller companies will have fewer employees involved in a project, people at SMBs are identified by their names rather than their roles, and the structure of the business tends to be much flatter.

In theory, SMBs can easily adapt to change because they aren’t as tied down by multiple layers of bureaucracy and red tape.

And yet despite this inherent agility, many small businesses are far from Agile. While Agile may seem like a methodology designed for large companies to act like small ones, the reality is that SMBs need to pursue the philosophy with equal vigor if they are to survive in these times of constant change.

Interop London logo (small)Learn more about building an Agile business by attending Interop London this June. Find out more here.

Sean McGrath is a freelance IT writer, researcher, and journalist. He has written for PC Pro, the BBC, and TechWeekEurope, and has produced content for a range of private organizations. Although he holds a first class degree in investigative journalism, his dreams of being a ... View Full Bio

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