What makes Agile methodology different from others?

Well, if you found an inclination to read this blog, then the chances are that you already know about Agile and how this is being used in several industries, and not just Information Technology.

The most popular question which I am asked by my mentees during different training sessions is “What makes Agile different from other methodologies?” So let’s take this question and try to answer this together.

The most appropriate and most important thing which makes Agile practices stand out is YOU! It magically blends the YOU into WE and makes YOURs as OURs. To me this is the major difference which it brings to the table.

I think it would be rude not to mention the pillars of Agile methodology as they are essential for the overall process and understanding. Thus a cut copy paste of the pillars from the most authentic source is below.

  • Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools.

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

  • Responding to change over following a plan.

These values form the most interesting aspects of the working methodology. Whether you are amateur or expert, these values stay strong forever. As they rightly say Agile is more about mindset and collaborative communication than anything else.

A frequent question which I get, from almost very single person I speak with in the working group, can Agile teams really survive without documentation? Sounds interesting right! So let's try to answer this together. Before we answer this practically, Agile methodology says that there is no, or little value in writing documentation.

Writing Documentation, purpose and readers are identified?

Before you dismiss this question and respond “it’s not necessary to write documentation in Agile”, consider what are the enterprise / project needs in the environment you are implementing Agile practices.

You have to also understand that most popular techniques in Agile, like SCRUM, KANBAN are methodologies which are not complete in themselves. These methodologies tell you how to work, but you have to still combine these methodologies with other processes which might force you to write documents for compliance and governance.

As far as my experience goes, a startup company is more likely to get away and actually succeed with zero documentation, at the same time, a large enterprise will not be able to implement the software successfully using the same methodology.

Just to share an example - if organisation has ISO / ISAE certification requirements, then you cannot skip the bare minimum documentation that your team has to produce in order to meet those standards.

Sometimes when teams are making a transformation between methodologies / ways of working, then documentation of right quality can actually help transform faster. You can still keep producing documentation which is necessary and actually promotes collaboration. Certain tools like JIRA and Confluence (these are the most commonly found in organisations, however there are a plenty) are great for this kind of implementation.

In other words, zero documentation needs of Agile methods is a “myth”. Writing just enough documentation is promoted and is a practical norm in high performing teams. I would recommend that the teams should use the right tool for documentation. Writing specs using MS Word is the thing of the past. Offline mediums of requirements documentation should be avoided. Teams should focus to prepare specs which can serve as “living documentation”. I would also recommend that Agile practices be followed with Lean practices to eliminate waste so that teams can stay as close as possible to “no documentation” philosophy of Agile methodology. Thus, follow what suits your team best.

Let’s read the Agile Principals and try to understand them.

After going through 4 Values and 12 Principles, it's evident that the game changers here are Individuals, Collaboration and Communication. Value is given to working software and individuals meet at a regular interval to give each other feedback.

No matter which Agile methodology you narrow down to and start using, these things are a constant. Thus for our original question What is Agile ? The answer we are getting, it’s the way we work together as individuals, for a common goal, with constant feedback and and iterative increment.

Happy Reading!

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