Agile, a term that has become associated with building software in short iterations, is making headway as a philosophy for running a business in general, with executives latching on to agile practices such as its heavy emphasis on flexibility and collaboration.
These days, businesses must be agile and responsive in dealing with economic and business conditions, says Jim Highsmith, a co-author of the "Manifesto for Agile Software Development," a 2001 position paper that sparked broad usage of agile methods in software development shops: "They've just got to move faster, change quicker." People are approaching agile from a business and management perspective, not necessarily just from an IT perspective, says Highsmith, an executive consultant at IT consultancy ThoughtWorks.
[ The Agile Manifesto writers recently staged a reunion to celebrate and advocate for agile programming. Also, see InfoWorld's special report on the impact of agile programming a decade later. | Stay up to date on software development issues and trends with InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. ]
Dave Sharrock, vice president of professional services at consulting firm Agile42, agrees that agile practices are moving from programming into business management: "We're seeing more and more [agile-oriented consulting business] being brought in by business managers or leadership teams with the need to bring in the whole product portfolio -- the product development process -- into an agile way of working."
Leadership teams want to know how to interact with an agile development organization, he adds. As an example, Sharrock says his former employer, social media company Be2.com, rebuilt its engineering organization using Scrum and agile processes. Its management used an iterative, adaptive approach to manage the whole organization.
Companies implementing agile outside of software development
Software developer Tasktop Technologies uses some agile concepts in running the company, says its president, Neelan Choksi. "To be honest, I wasn't a believer when I joined the company." Agile, he says, just sounded "like a bunch of self-help."
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.