Built with Agile: How to Maximize Value During the Development Process

agile: prioritize, work, evaluate

It can be difficult to know what to expect when partnering with an agency that follows an agile approach to web development projects. It can be even more difficult to discern if a project will actually be successful. In the course of managing projects over the past several years, our team has identified a few key concepts that help create more success with agile projects.

What is Agile?

Broadly speaking, agile development is an iterative process of developing software that focuses on building working software in defined cadences. Projects begin with a “Spike” or “Sprint 0”, which is a period to provide initial solutioning and estimation for the product and features. After the initial planning, each iteration – also called a sprint – consists of:

  • Estimation
  • Planning
  • Prioritizing/reprioritizing
  • Development
  • 
Demonstration of working software
  • 
Planning for improvements for the next sprint

Keys to Agile Success

  1. Know the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  2. One of the most important tenets to embrace is the idea of an MVP. In an MVP the focus is on the essentials for a site with the goal to launch to market as quickly as possible and then iterate post-launch.

    The visual below demonstrates the important distinction of an MVP. The top half of the illustration shows how a company can focus too much on the end product, spending more time on features before customers can actually use the product. The bottom half of the illustration shows how a company can get an MVP launched quickly with minimal features and iterate toward the end goal.

    MVP illustration

    Image credit Henrik Kniberg

    Here’s the key: an MVP should match the maturity of a business, including the processes, brand and data. Stronger brands have an MVP that probably includes a more designed site. If a business heavily relies on an ERP, the eCommerce site should probably be connected as part of the MVP. Small business that have very little data on digital customers might have an MVP that includes a base-level site on an enterprise platform to allow for future growth and analysis.

    
Remember the first word in MVP is “Minimum.” Embrace it. The faster a site can get to market with its products, the sooner businesses and customers are going to realize the benefits. Be aggressive when shrinking scope knowing that there will be time to iterate, improve and add more after launch.

  3. Commit to Ongoing Improvement


  4. On the web work is never done. When relying on an agency for ongoing development, they should have a clear process for partnering with their clients to build ongoing success and be able to strategize on what happens after the MVP launches. Be sure to have a clear understanding of the investment level after launch and an idea of the long-term budget.

  5. Partner with a Leader
  6. Another ingredient for success is a concept called project leadership (as opposed to project management). A project manager (PM) should actively drive value for their client’s company by focusing on the business goals and ROI while considering the timeline and budget. A good project manager will call out reasons to extend a timeline, invest further in a feature or cut scope to help meet business goals and maximize return on investment.



  7. Recognize the Trust Factor
  8. For agile to work with an agency there must be trust between the agency and the client. When selecting an agency, trust is the number one factor – even more important than price, timeline or process. Without trust, the agency and client won’t be able to properly communicate necessary solutions that will benefit the project. A client should feel comfortable pushing back when something feels awry as well as have the trust to respect their agency’s response to work toward a final outcome together.

  9. Understand the Process
  10. Knowing a little about how agile works will help in identifying possible agency partners that aren’t ready to take on a project. While an agency having no process is a huge red flag, so are groups that claim agile is as simple as “responding on the fly” or “just getting the work done”. Ask questions and find out the exact steps an agency is using with their agile method to ensure they are not leaving out any vital elements.

Want to know more?
These tips aren’t all encompassing, but will certainly go a long way towards ensuring a successful outcome. If you have any additional questions feel free to tweet me @theseattlesuit or email me at brian@coolblueweb.com.

Brian Lange is the Director of Accounts at coolblueweb. He also hosts a weekly podcast, FutureCommerce, looking at the future of digital commerce.