Dynamically changing concepts of conducting business and new technologies that foster it are changing managers’ approach to managing groups of specialists. How can methods popular in IT be used in industry?
“Agile software development”, simply translated as ‘agile programming’, is a group of methods whose most important assumption is the continuous observation of the recipient’s requirements and response to their evolving expectations. The project is divided into phases, and subsequent parts of the built code are tested after their completion and possibly modified depending on the needs. This methodology is widely used in IT, but why be limited to this industry only? The growing digital transformation suggests that the “agile” way of production may be the future for industry and business as well.
Fifty methods and tools
In 2015, Australian Craig Smith collected and described as many as forty agile methods that are used around the world. Today, this group can be expanded by another ten items, and new ones are still emerging. Most of them are, of course, related to the IT industry and target areas of software development – including requirements management, design, modeling, coding, testing and quality assurance, planning, and risk management
All of these practices and tools are designed to make the entire software development lifecycle more efficient. Most of these methods have common points that characterize optimized project management practices. The first of them is the culture of shared responsibility and effective cooperation between often small teams. Appropriate division of the project introducing new functionalities and ability to synchronize cooperating project groups increases the speed of software development, but also supports development of the employees themselves. Sharing information and supporting communication between development, operations, and specialist departments are critical to constructively building a broader project vision. In addition, teams should look for ways to automate as many tasks as possible and pursue the idea of continuous integration and implementation. Ideally, such activities should also include designing processes and environments that can be easily modified and repeated in other areas of the software under development, but also in subsequent products
The very process of rapidly deploying software – which is at an early stage of production – to market allows for early implementation of bug fixes that could develop over time and negatively impact the entire project outline. Teams can monitor and collect user behavior and thus have complete transparency of the behavioral data they collect. The result is that developers can respond quickly to changes, eliminate unproven solutions, and modify those that need refinement
Industry and business
Product and product development are, of course, terms used not only in the IT industry.The key, which is universal to a huge number of manufacturing industries, is to shorten product development cycles and maximize product performance. The goal is to know quickly whether the proposed business model is working, whether it needs to be adapted somehow to changes in the market, or perhaps abandoned altogether. The emphasis of agile methods in these industries is on understanding what is of most value to the user, as well as what problems the product is meant to solve and what needs it is meant to meet. Once this is accomplished, prioritize and sequence project development, keeping an objective measure as to the ratio of product value and development effort
Agile methods can also address processes, which should become more flexible and efficient in project management. The final vision of how the product should look and work defines the target direction of its development, but the iterative and incremental approach divides it into fully functional parts, developed in a few-week intervals. At the end of each iteration, the completed phases are presented to a specialist department – or better yet: the customer – who verifies assumptions and functionality and generates feedback, and the next iteration is planned based on that feedback. As a result, the team can realize solutions tailored to current needs and freshly acquired knowledge.
Self-organizing high-performance teams
In each of the cases mentioned, the “agile” approach to project management encourages well-organized, ambitious teams of workers. The motivation and ability of teams to perform is enhanced by increasing their autonomy and extending their decision-making authority. Lean management, defined deadlines for presenting results, and documenting progress foster good communication, coordination, and synchronization among employees and teams
Most lean-agile methods distinguish between process management and personal support and development of the employee. Managers should work with the employee to define the individual’s career path and provide ongoing support. Maintaining a willingness to change and developing a team member’s relevant skills are key to keeping them motivated. This is very important also from the perspective of decentralization of decision-making processes. Employees who have a sense of being an important member of the team and building the company together with the management are more engaged and productive. Although strategic, long-term and far-reaching decisions will continue to be made centrally, more and more operational determinations should be made by smaller groups of experts. This is why it is so important to understand the new role of the manager in companies that want to use lean-agile methods. He should no longer be a supervisor of the work of his subordinates, but a coach who builds a team of people who get along well and supports their development.
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