In the time since agile has gone viral, we in professional services have seen its benefits, especially in complex projects with constantly changing goals and resource challenges.
Why has agile taken hold in professional services? It’s flexible regarding client feedback, changes, and project scope. It allows you to catch and fix issues anytime during the process, not only at the end.
It also allows you to course correct before a project goes off the rails, and to meet deadlines more frequently.
Three advantages of agile that I want to zero in on today fit quite neatly into the professional services wheelhouse: It engenders collaborative teamwork extremely well, it focuses acutely on breaking a complex project down to its most basic components, and it shows value quickly through incremental progress.
All for One, One for All
If you’ve read my blogs about teams, you know that I see teamwork as crucial to delivering successful customer outcomes. Agile shares its foundation in temporary cross-functional teams with a proven professional services best practice, in which cross-functional teams eschew traditional silos to collaborate in meeting shared goals.
Because professional services teams are almost always at multiple sites, either on-site or remote, it’s a little more challenging to apply agile, but it can and does work.
In agile cross-functional teams (typically between five and ten members), each individual member’s expertise and contribution take on added importance, because small teams drive a higher level of individual ownership, leaving no room for deadwood.
Each team member is responsible for specific deliverables that contribute to the overall effort, so if one or more members aren’t contributing, it gets exposed—and corrected—quickly.
Agile also drives a higher level of teamwork and fosters flexibility so that other team members can help with components, which typically doesn’t happen with waterfall.
The Building Blocks of Success
Because you’ve broken down the project to its most basic components in order to delegate responsibility for each component, the team’s understanding of the project increases exponentially.
That understanding comes in very handy when an issue arises. With waterfall, you’re focused on milestones—building the foundation, then the walls, then the roof, then the electrical and plumbing, which you can’t break down much further and which you have to complete in a prescribed order.
Agile allows you to break components down further, so if one goes sideways, it’s easier to course correct than with waterfall, where an exposed area can go undetected for weeks because it’s not a critical path at the moment.
Agile can be applied to any project when you capture backlog and WIP and prioritize items, decide what you want to go after and ensure that components align with your ultimate goal.
Incremental Progress: Many Small Steps = One Big Leap
Agile is a great way to show tangible progress, especially against big, complicated goals. The heightened team dynamic and higher cadence of going after problems allow the team to get things done and show real progress.
If you’re brutally honest about priorities and diligent in capturing all components in process, so that you’re committing to tasks you can actually accomplish, you can show progress in two-week or one-month sprints—whatever the right cadence may be.
Not Just for Software Development
Like all successful businesses, CA Services is helping its experts evolve and mature by learning to use new and different tools. Our hammers are still as useful as ever, but newer, more progressive tools and a newer, more progressive way of thinking are also valuable.
Our expert thought leaders advise customers on the best tools for a particular challenge, whether it’s waterfall, agile, or a hybrid, and gauge the customer’s ability to use the tools we recommend. Agile is heavily dependent on engaged customers who contribute to the process, so we promote agile only when it’s right for the customer.
It is possible, however, to apply some agile attributes to waterfall, resulting in a happy medium that brings some parallelism and time-to-value phases to the project.
For more on using an alternative approach based on agile methods, check out Adam Frary’s new whitepaper, Why the Traditional Services Approach to Enterprise Software Projects No Longer Works.