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Agile collaboration: A primer

Author: Mike Elgan

Born out of frustration with the slow pace of software development, a group of 17 software leaders met in 2001 during a ski trip to revamp the field. They captured their ideas in a document called the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. First popular with development teams, the concepts of Agile methodology quickly spread across the business world.

What is Agile collaboration?

The aim of Agile collaboration is to smash through the inertia of large groups, silos, hierarchies and office politics, and drive toward the creation of value for customers and partners.

One thread that runs through the Agile methodology is breaking things into smaller units. For example, instead of long weekly meetings, Agile teams often hold very short, daily stand-up meetings. Larger project tasks are divided into more urgent "sprints;" each sprint tends to be broken down further into four stages: plan, develop, deploy and evaluate.

Instead of top-down control, where a manager directs subordinates to focus on tasks that view the silo in isolation, the Agile collaboration approach is to form nimble, cross-functional teams that have real decision-making authority. Putting this into practice means embracing three core Agile methodology concepts.

Active engagement and communication

Agile methodology demands that team members commit to an active style of engagement that includes clear, specific language and active listening. The purpose of this is to avoid mistakes and low performance as the result of miscommunication. It also favors face-to-face communication to take full advantage of nonverbal cues and open office plans to facilitate informal, ad hoc brainstorming and continuous interaction.

Iteration

Another Agile tenet is fast experimentation through iteration. The idea is to take a concept, implement it, get it out there and then solicit feedback. If it still needs work, then repeat the process. This concept enables you to move forward with a project by testing and fixing all the parts so that the totality of the project is made up of ideas, concepts and parts that have already been tested and optimized.

Minimizing time-to-value

A final core concept behind Agile collaboration methodology is to minimize what is called time-to-value. The process is geared toward creating value for the customer as fast as possible—a benefit for both the end user and the organization.

How does Agile compare to other methodologies?

Agile methodology is comparable to other collaboration systems, including Scrum, Kanban and Waterfall.

Scrum

The Scrum philosophy is an Agile system, but it's optimized for doing more faster. Specifically, Scrum calls for 15-minute daily meetings and working in two-week sprints, which are planned, executed and then evaluated after the fact. Scrum also communicates to the group via a continuously updated chart to show the progress of work in process.

Kanban

Kanban obsesses more over improving processes used for getting collective work done. Most practitioners also consider Kanban a subset or a type of Agile, one that focuses on the coordination and balance of work according to the time and ability of team members. The centerpiece of a Kanban project is the namesake Kanban board, a wall of colored sticky notes (or cards or boxes in a software interface) that move from one phase to the next—for example, from work that needs to be started, work that's in progress, completed work and other categories that make sense to the team and the project. This process is supposed to reveal bottlenecks in the process so they can be fixed.

Waterfall

Waterfall is highly linear and focuses on forward momentum. Project stages are linear and sequential, and each stage depends on the completion of the previous stage.

What are Agile team collaboration tools?

The Agile approach emerged over the past decade among software developers and, as such, emphasized in-person communication. But with the rise of remote work, the need for Agile team collaboration tools and technology to keep groups working closely together is paramount.

  • Conference calling: A powerful and flexible conference calling solution is critical so that remote workers feel part of the daily standup and other collaborative interactions.
  • Connected software: Another valuable Agile technology is connected software tools for collecting, integrating and communicating data.
  • Unified communications and collaboration: Above all, seek out a robust unified communications and collaboration system that brings together your voice service, video calls, chat, desktop sharing, voicemail, shareable whiteboards and more in a single, easy-to-use and clear user interface that spans device types.

The hybrid, distributed workforce needs powerful technology to replace the hands-on, visual, in-person meetings that have traditionally been common for Agile projects.

How can you get started with Agile?

The first step is to gather decision-makers to determine exactly what kind of Agile collaboration methodology to implement. Encourage all members of this group to study the many available options and methodologies. Everyone will have their own ideas, so it's great to start using Agile team collaboration tools right away, even around the decisions about how Agile will proceed within your organization.

Learn how Verizon’s unified communications services can help make Agile possible for small and medium-sized businesses.