Article  |  Project Management

So what’s this agile thing all about?

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So what’s this agile thing all about?

Chances are you’ve heard the word “agile” being kicked around at least once while shopping for digital agencies. If your brain jumped to it having something to do with being flexible, you’re right.

Agile is an approach that favors short periods of development, focusing on the evolving needs and priorities of a product. Instead of running away from uncertainty, it embraces it. Because let’s face it: you’re going to change your mind about that registration flow. Or we’re going to learn more about your company and decide to go in a different direction. And that’s okay.

With agile, everyone has a voice. It ensures you’re part of each decision-making phase instead of at just the beginning and end. By eliminating assumptions, the ultimate killer of collaboration, it allows us to make sure we’re all on the same page from the outset. It’s a team effort with your best interests in mind.

It’s a win-win for everyone: we work with clear guidelines to help us stay on the right path, you see progress as we go.

An agile mindset might look something like this: Let’s say you have an idea for a roadtrip with friends from Portland to San Francisco. Sure, you might list out every place you’re going to stop and eat at before you start the engine. But along the way your carburetor decided to conk out and now you need to stay overnight at the nearest cliffside hotel while your car gets fixed. (There are worse things.)

You’re still cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, but rather than sticking to a strict roadmap, you’re adapting plans and going with the flow. You’re being agile.

How agile came to be

Back in the day, software teams largely worked with a method called waterfall. This is where different siloed departments would hand off work down to each other through each phase of development without much room for backtracking or input from the client. It worked best with projects that had all its requirements set from the beginning.

Haters likened the waterfall method to a game of telephone because the rigidity could result in an end product that wasn’t what the client originally wanted (or more importantly, needed).

Ensuring you get what you want by involving you at each phase seems obvious, so it might surprise you to learn that agile stepped onto the scene only 15 years ago. It was first put into writing when a group of developers who wanted to do software better came up with The Agile Manifesto. Word for word, here’s what it says:

  • 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.

Since the manifesto first came out, agile’s evolved into varying flavors, each with its own sets of processes and tools. Now it’s influence extends beyond software development. Agile life hacks are used in everything from parenting to wedding planning, and industries ranging from the automotive to the opera.

It’s because agile’s that good.

We don’t do agile. We are agile.

When we work with you on your turning your brilliant idea into an end product, the last thing we want to do is waste your time and money.

That’s why we’re committed to talking with you at each step of the process to find the best solution, constantly iterating, and of course, being flexible. It’s more important for us to create the right product than stick to a plan.

Every agency interprets agile in their own way. We like a flavor of agile called Scrum, a framework for working as a team whereas we’re constantly passing pieces back and forth to each other to get your product out into the world.

We like to think of ourselves as semi-agile. While we don’t adhere strictly to every part of Scrum and how we work varies by client and their needs, here are seven agile principles you can generally expect to encounter when working with us:

  1. Healthy dialogue. Not to brag or anything, but we’re really good at this one. We promise we won’t send you emails at all hours of the night, but you’ll hear from us frequently about what we’ve been up to. We’ll let you know ahead of time if we believe we’re off with our estimates or over budget, for example, so you can approve any changes. We won’t surprise you. And we expect the same from you.
  2. Product backlog. You can think of this as the to-do list where we name every single one of your hope and dreams for the end product. The list evolves over time as needs change and as we work together. We’ll add things we can improve on our end, or our technical debt, and prioritize accordingly with you as we go along.
  3. Short iterations. When we’re creating a product from scratch we work in small chunks called “sprints” which can last anywhere from one week to one month. Rather than planning out every detail in advance, we stop frequently to re-evaluate, learn, and change course if needed.
  4. Continuous delivery. We’re not fans of the big reveal. We show work early and often to make sure it aligns with your expectations. With larger projects, we’ll do demos where we’ll walk you through what we’ve built so far.
  5. Regular reporting. Surprises can be fun, but we like to avoid them. Every Monday morning you can expect a status report from us where we let you how much money we’ve spent and the remaining budget, what we’re working on, any roadblocks or concerns, and more. We also like to discuss this in a weekly call.
  6. Planning for refinement. While we’re always putting our best foot forward, we may not always hit the bullseye. Didn’t get “pay now” button right the first time around? Don’t worry. Next sprint you can be sure we’ll have it closer to what you want.
  7. Regular retrospectives. We’re always looking for ways on how we can do it better. This is where we reflect internally to celebrate our successes and fess up to our mistakes. Sometimes we’ll even loop you in for your own special client retrospective.

How you can be agile

Look, this is your product at the end of the day. You’re the only one who truly knows what you need and what works best.

When collaborating with us using this agile approach, it helps to be upfront from the getgo about how much time and resources you have to manage a project’s progression. We’re going to be asking for your feedback on everything from how the user registration wireframe looks to clarification of web copy. Having an idea of how much time you need to allocate for communication — and prioritizing accordingly — can help manage expectations from the outset.

Have regular check-ins with yourself. Are you falling behind on anything? Can you delegate some decisions? Try to avoid being the reason that project momentum slows down.

Empower the people you’re hired to be on your team — be it our Design Strategist or your own internal Director of Marketing — and trust that they know what they’re doing. If your gut is telling you that our recommendation is a huge mistake, be honest and share your perspective. Once we’ve weighed the options together, don’t sit too long on pushing forward. We can always pivot on these decisions later.

You’re also not going to know everything up front, and we understand this can be an unsettling feeling. It’s helpful to write down all the open questions that are burning in your mind, and revisit them every now and then to determine which ones to address.

We want this to be a continuing dialogue throughout our partnership. It can’t be said enough how much we value transparency, and hope you feel comfortable enough with us letting us know if your budget changes or if we’re doing anything that’s just not working for you. We’re always looking to make your role easier.

Got questions about agile? Let us know. We’re here for you.

Have a project that needs help?