Beyond app dev: Applying agile techniques to business

Software development practices such as collaboration and openness to change are now being applied to all parts of a business

By , InfoWorld |  IT Management, agile development

He's now a believer: "After a year, I can't put my finger on it but it works." Tasktop does its marketing in sprints, a concept critical in agile software development. "It causes us to focus on certain activities" within a set period of time, Choksi says.

At Land O'Frost, which sells lunch meats, the company is wedded to agile practices when it comes to running its operations so that it can anticipate and respond in a fast-changing world. "If you're not reacting, anticipating that kind of change, you're not going to be successful," says Steve Sakats, senior vice president for human resources.

Land O'Frost's key agility indicators include being focused, fast, and flexible in areas such as sales and customer development, finance, human resources, and operations -- similar to the Agile Manifesto's emphasis on customer collaboration and being able to respond to change. Agility Consulting and Training, the agile consulting firm that Land O'Frost used, has developed an agile model that involves anticipating change, generating confidence, initiating action, liberating thinking, and evaluating results.

Ironically, Land O'Frost still uses traditional waterfall methods in the little bit of software development that it does, Sakats says. That's because the company purchases a lot of its systems rather than developing in-house.

Agile coming full circle to its roots in business management Athough "agile" has become a popular buzzword in software development, Agile42 consultant Sharrock says agile processes have always been used in business, but they hadn't been clearly defined before: "Once you have an agile software development organization, you automatically start putting pressure on other parts of the organization to work in a similar way [to agile]."

Lean -- a quality-oriented production management method that is a forerunner of agile -- and agile tenets were promoted back in the 1970s by W. Edwards Deming, says Nathan Slippen, chief U.S. technologist for agile consulting firm Valtech. "When you look at the tenets [of agile], they can be applied at different levels within an enterprise," such as reducing and eliminating waste and figuring out ways to make processes more transparent, he says -- both foundational tenets of Lean.

The use of agile practices beyond just software development is a noble goal. If done successfully, businesses can apply the same concepts of collaboration and flexibility for business benefits that agile provides in software development. But agile practice requires a new way of thinking, and participants in the process must be able to accommodate changes to how things have always been done. As Sharrock says, "It's a people change."


Originally published on InfoWorld |  Click here to read the original story.
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