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How to use agile development to avoid project failures

Sharon Florentine | Feb. 6, 2014
The rocky rollout of is a very public example of a larger issue of software product failures. Can an agile development framework allow software companies to avoid such project management headaches themselves.

"Users don't actually behave the way they say they will, software challenges are sometimes harder than expected, competitors change and shift in unexpected ways, management support ebbs and flows. Agile came about as an answer to the notion that there had to be a way to allow for some flexibility in the software development process," Orlando says. Or, as he explains, "The main idea is to iterate, quickly and repeatedly, to keep up with the market. Get your idea in a minimal form out to the market quickly, and drive customer feedback so you can iterate and adapt that product in real-time to customers' needs," Orlando says.

Touchy-Feely Development
There are great risks involved in developing a new product in the digital, always-connected, social-media-heavy environment of today, says Orlando. The margin for error is razor-thin, and if something goes awry, a 24-hour news cycle will make sure your business takes a very public whipping. The potential for failure is driving down business's risk tolerance, says 3Pillar Global's Klaussen, and forcing them to consider new ways to make sure products are successful.

"Business owners are not willing to, or even able to, fund a project with a low likelihood of achieving the desired business outcomes," Klaussen says.

"These project sponsors want to be involved in a way that allows them to touch, feel and test as early as possible to validate that their product is heading in the right direction," Klaussen says.

And the movement toward an agile framework has been prompted by developers themselves, says Klaussen. There is nothing worse for a developer than writing thousands of lines of code that nobody will ever use, he says. It's especially depressing for developers who can see that the product they're working on doesn't meet the objectives (business or consumer) while they're writing them, he says.

"But by putting their code in front of real users and stakeholders on a regular basis — typically every other week — and getting direct, honest feedback that adds value, well, that is very motivating," Klaussen says. "Now they know exactly how to delight their users."

Adjustable Agility
The agile framework emphasizes flexibility, constant iteration and above all else, collaboration, according to the Agile Alliance, an organization devoted to supporting developers and stakeholders who apply agile development principles.

"Quite simply, the agile process is designed to allow key stakeholders to continually validate that a project is aligned with and meeting their organization's business objectives," says Klaussen. "It's the notion that software you build is never finished and never static," he says.

And the agile framework forces collaboration, says Brian Bargmann, program manager with ESPN. (Bargmann says his views on the subject are his own and do not necessarily represent or reflect those of ESPN.)


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