Agile 101

This guide provides our opinion of what agile is (and what it isn’t).

Agile 101

What is agile?

Agile is the name coined for the wider set of mindset and ideas that new agile ways of working falls within.

A major theme in agile is “inspect and adapt.” Since development inevitably involves learning, innovation, and surprises, agile emphasises taking a short step of development, inspecting both the resulting product and the efficiency of current practices, and then adapting these patterns and process practices.

Then we rinse and repeat the art of inspecting and adapting forever.

Agile manifesto

A set of agile values and principles are captured in the agile manifesto.

The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001 by seventeen independent-minded software practitioners. While the participants didn’t often agree, they did find consensus around four core values.

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.

Agile Flavours

There are a large number of ‘ways” of doing and being agile, often called agile methodologies. You may have heard terms such as:

  • Kanban

  • Lean

  • Less

  • SaFe

  • Scrum

  • Scrum of Scrums

  • Spotify Model

  • XP

Scrum

Arguably by far the most popular agile method is Scrum. It was strongly influenced by a 1986 Harvard Business Review article on the practices associated with successful product development groups; in this paper the term “Rugby” was introduced, which later morphed into “Scrum” in Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions (1991, DeGrace and Stahl) relating successful development to the game of Rugby in which a self-organizing team moves together down the field of product development. It was then formalized in 1993 by Ken Schwaber and Dr. Jeff Sutherland. Scrum is now used by companies large and small, including Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, Lockheed Martin, Motorola, SAP, Cisco, GE, CapitalOne and the US Federal Reserve.

Agile Planning and Ceremonies

Within Scrum there are 5 ceremonies a squad will undertake during each iteration.

At the beginning of each sprint/iteration

Sprint Planning meeting

A first-day meeting time boxed that initiates every Sprint. The meeting is divided into segments, each also time boxed.. During the first segment the Product Owner presents the highest priority Product Backlog to the team. The Team and Product Owner collaborate to help the Team determine how much Product Backlog it can turn into functionality during the upcoming Sprint. The Team commits to this at the end of the first segment. During the second segment of the ceremony, the squad plans how it will meet this commitment by designing and then detailing its work as a plan in the Sprint Backlog.

Sometime during each sprint/iteration

Daily Standup / Daily Scrum

A short meeting held daily by each squad during which the squad members inspect their work, synchronise their work and progress and report and impediments to the ScrumMaster for removal. Follow-on meetings to adapt upcoming work to optimise the Sprint may occur after the Daily Scrum meetings.

Backlog Refinement / Backlog Grooming

the regular collaborative ceremonies where items on the backlog are discussed, refined and estimated and the backlog is trimmed and prioritised.

At the end of each sprint/iteration

Prove It / Demo / Sprint Review meeting

A time-boxed meeting at the end of every Sprint where the sqaud collaborates with the Product Owner and stakeholders on what just happened in the Sprint. This usually starts with a demonstration of completed Product Backlog items, a discussion of opportunities, constraints and findings, and a discussion of what might be the best things to do next (potentially resulting in Product Backlog changes). Only completed product functionality can be demonstrated.

Retrospective

a session where the squad and Scrum Master reflect on the process and make commitments to improve. A time boxed meeting facilitated by the ScrumMaster at which the complete squad discusses the just-concluded Sprint and determines what could be changed that might make the next Sprint more enjoyable or productive.

Helpful Reading

We recommend these resources if you wish to explore more information about agile.

Short Videos

Short Guides

Frequently Asked Questions