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How to improve productivity with agile

Bruce Harpham | Jan. 13, 2016
Delivering increased productivity is a key priority for many IT executives. Yes, agile can help with that, too (it’s not just for development).

The agile emphasis on face-to-face interaction and cooperation makes a difference to productivity. “With in-person communications, we can write a diagram in a meeting room. We can then start working on developing the product immediately afterwards. It is also easier and faster to do problem solving. Managing a growing volume of documentation means less time to work on the product,” says Antz.

“With increased distance between project team members, I see an increased need for documentation. More time spent on documentation means less time on software production,” he says. The cost of increased documentation and other formal communication is an important variable to consider as you plan your next technology project.

Making agile work with a global development team

Face-to-face interaction helps productivity. Unfortunately, it is not always possible. What if your organization has developers, engineers and project managers based around the country or further afield? Making that arrangement work effectively is challenging. Agile can still be helpful with a supportive culture.

“Success with agile methodology is 5 percent due to the tools used and 95 percent due to the culture,” says Scott Rose, senior director of product management at Collab.net. Collab helps organizations develop enterprise-scale software with collaboration technologies. To support Collab staff located around the world, Rose periodically has early morning and late evening meetings. “It is important that we rotate the schedule – we don’t want one time to feel that they are always the ones who have to stay up late,” Rose says.

Collab’s customers include major organizations such as HP, Intel, Sun Microsystems, the Project Management Institute and Siemens. Cultural adoption of agile is driven by several factors including training and a willingness to try new approaches.

“Our agile approach starts with feedback,” Rose says. “We take in customer requests for enhancements, bug reports and internal suggestions and add that to our backlog.” Collab.net uses Salesforce to collect and manage customer feedback and deliver customer service. Collecting and managing customer feedback in a systematic way means complaints and requests are rarely lost in the shuffle.

“With agile, we can slice scope into small easy to manage pieces and put those into production,” Rose says. “By delivering new features and enhancements in sprints, we can keep momentum and be responsive to customers.” Delivering small features gradually makes it easier to adjust and take a new approach. In contrast, the traditional approach emphasizes change management and extensive controls. Risk adverse organizations may prefer that approach. If your organization puts a priority on innovation, adopting agile is well worth the effort.

Adopting agile in your organization in 2016?

Before you promote the agile methodology at your organization, take the time to do your research. Without a background on the philosophy, agile may be misunderstood as the latest in a long line of management fads. Here are a few specific points to explore as you plan your goals (and productivity improvement efforts) for the New Year:

  1. Determine your project productivity challenges. Finding out your organization’s current problems is the starting point. Some problems – speed, efficiency and productivity – may be improved with agile. If you have a large organization to manage, consider gathering feedback with survey service such as Survey Monkey.
  2. Identify a group open to new ideas. As an IT leader, you will know which people in your organization are open to new ideas. They are the staff who regularly experiment with new software, invest effort in training and perhaps contribute to open source projects.
  3. Ask the group to experiment with agile. In meeting with the early adopter group, explain the experiment to them. You may choose to highlight a few agile case studies and surveys mentioned in this article. In addition, you may suggest several possibilities for the first sprint. For example, your first agile project could be used to solve a long standing customer service problem such as fixing an order tracking tool.

 

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