This week we delved deeper into the Agile. I explored the methodology behind the practice, how it relates to other organisational models as well as how I can apply the thinking and practical steps to my own professional work. I will be using the term Agile Methodology to refer to the philosophical element, which involves new values, principles, practices, and benefits (Rigby et al. 2016). Whereas ‘practice’ refers to the application of Agile frameworks in a software development environment, which I briefly touch on in this piece.
The word ‘agile’ is defined as ‘being able to move your body quickly and easily’ by the Cambridge Dictionary. They go on to cite the example ‘monkeys are very agile climbers’. Which brings to mind images of the monkeys in my garden swinging from banana tree to balcony, stealth little thieves running circles around us to steal fruit from the kitchen when we were distracted. Monkeys aside, the core concept of Agile Practice stays true to the word’s original meaning, valuing forward-thinking and learning from experience; “Being Agile is being able to react, take advantage of unexpected opportunities, adjust to new environments, and update the experience base for the future.” (Boehm.2004)
Fig 1. (Rothen.2021)
Companies are more reluctant than ever to commit to big design projects without an idea of how they will create success. Agile methodology calls for rapid idea generation and testing concepts to get fast feedback to feed into the design iteration loop. This means that designers can test ideas with stakeholders and potential users at different stages in the design process, and direct their efforts into designing a solutions-focused product that meets the needs of the defined problem. (NNgroup.2019)
Agile is designed to be used by teams, and to incorporate people across several relevant functions of an organisation, with different areas of expertise and levels of experience. Within the Agile methodology there is no hierarchy, as I understand it the idea is to have product owners or ‘scrum’ masters who lead their piece of the project, but don’t take the position of a top-down boss. In a video I watched, which focused on Google’s Design Sprint method, they emphasised the importance of creating a strong teamwork ethic, which may be a challenge within a group of people who have never worked together before. This was represented by a clip of developers doing star jumps, in an awkward yet joyful moment. (Interaction Design. 2019)
Agile and Teal
I first heard the word Agile used in software development contexts, but today I understand that Agile is both a framework and a methodology, or philosophy. Diverse sectors are learning from the methodology as they realise the importance of being open to changing contexts and requirements. For example Agile people management, is a matter of creating an environment where the interests, ambitions and innovations of people constantly shape the strategy and future of the company. (Denning.2018) This ever evolving, people-centered approach to business development is mirrored in Frederich Laloux’ 2014 book ‘Reinventing Organisations’. Laloux presents his vision of the evolution of organizational models, citing 7 key paradigms, naming the stage that we’re entering now as ‘Teal – characterised by self-management and a deeper sense of purpose’. (Laloux.2014)
Teal organisations are like living organisms, constantly evolving with the wider ecosystem. Their goal in life is to progressively discover their purpose and true nature—all experiences and failures are chances to learn and grow. (Laloux.2016) Though Laloux’s language could be described as rather idealistic, both ‘Reinventing Organisations and the Agile manifesto prioritise responding to change over set plans, value people over processes and learning from mistakes. (Beck et al. 2001) To me this is the only sensible way of running a business.
Though I see the Agile processes as a team sport, learning more about Agile methodology has supported me to adapt the project process of my design partnership. I see this as a shift in my professional practice, which as I apply it to brand design, will influence my development as a UX professional.
Shifts in my own practice
In our first two years of business I created custom project proposals, calendars and shifting methodologies for each project, I was able to flex to clients with particular and sometimes peculiar needs. This often had wonderful results, and other times left me overworked and burnt out when boundaries were not well-defined.
Agility without discipline leads to the heady, unencumbered enthusiasm of a start-up company-before it has to turn a profit. (Denning.2018) Denning hits the nail on the head here, what I understand from the Agile method is that it’s not solely about being adaptable, free-flowing and pandering to clients’ needs at the drop of a hat. It’s about setting up structures that allow for client involvement at select stages of the process, in a controlled environment. This could be a meeting with a clear intention and well-designed questions to get the right information to move on to the next stage of the project, or a workshop early on to clearly define the stakeholders’ goals. This doesn’t totally mitigate the unexpected, of course, I agree with Laloux’s philosophy of bringing our whole selves to the workplace (Laloux.2014) and have learnt that creating structures and defining boundaries means that we can adapt to client’s personal needs whilst maintaining a sense of cohesion within a project.
I feel that to get a real feel for Agile Practice, working in sprints and working iteratively, I need to gain experience in a multidisciplinary team working environment. I’ve been reflecting this week on the pros and cons of being self employed, and seeing where I may be missing out on the professional development and mentorship that comes from working with professionals with diverse experience. The idea of going back to internships makes me squirm a little, but if I were to find a paid, part-time role in a UX team alongside my Masters, I believe I could gain valuable experience and add value to a product development team. I’m not going to create a SMART goal around this yet, but I’ll be revisiting this idea in Spring 2022, it’s in my calendar for now.
BECK, K et al. 2001. ‘Manifesto for Agile Software Development’. [online] Available at: https://agilemanifesto.org. [accessed 18th August 2019].
BOEHM, B & Turner, R. 2004. ‘Balancing agility and discipline: evaluating and integrating agile and plan-driven methods’. Published in: Proceedings. 26th International Conference on Software Engineering. Edinburgh 28th May 2004. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1317503. [accessed 18th August 2019].
Cambridge Dictionary. Define: Agile. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/agile. [accessed 18th August 2019].
DENNING, S. 2018. ‘The Emergence of Agile People Management’. Available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/SL-04-2018-0042/full. [accessed 18th August 2019].
Interaction Design Foundation. 2019. Google Sprint Methodology. [YouTube content] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWEJCLkf1D4&ab_channel=InteractionDesignFoundation-IxDF. [accessed 17th August 2019].
LALOUX, F. 2014. Reinventing organizations a guide to creating organizations inspired by the next stage of human consciousness. Brussels Nelson Parker.
NEILSON Normal Group. 2019. Design Thinking & Agile [YouTube content] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n397Pv46Ouk&ab_channel=NNgroup. [accessed 17th August 2019].
RIGBY, Darrel K. et al. 2016. ‘Embracing Agile’. Harvard Business Review [online] Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/05/embracing-agile. [accessed 17th August 2019].
Fig 1: Monkeys on the author’s balcony. Taken by Rothen, M 2021.
Fig 2: Agile text on pink background. Graphic by author. 2021.