In what one might call its “purest” form, agile development involves working on user stories over multiple sprints until you have enough value to release something to your customers. Creating these simple, independent chunks produces potentially shippable code at the end of each sprint.
This process, when followed, works well for those that are creating the product and its accompanying documentation, but what about the rest of the organization? How does the agile development process fit into overall business processes? Do executives see the agile process benefitting the organization, and ultimately, bringing in revenue?
Challenges of Fitting Agile Inside Business Processes
As we’ve illustrated in the last several articles, agile development clearly benefits those creating product. But what about all the other things we need to do to market and actually get the product into customers’ hands? How do those functions and activities fit in? Remember, businesses have many other real-world challenges to overcome, like dealing with irate customers, training the field staff, handling export compliance requirements, managing legal concerns, and addressing distributed team difficulties.
Most business have some necessary business requirements and constraints that aren’t part of the agile process and can disrupt or even torpedo efforts to implement agile :
- Product managers need roadmaps to communicate the company’s long-term vision and solutions to their customers. At the same time, customers must have this information so they can plan their deployments and upgrades.
- Marketing launch plans are vital to ensuring that customers and prospects know what your organization is doing and how your solutions solve their problems.
- Resolving customer issues and performing product maintenance are absolutely essential, but they take time from your Engineering teams.
- Resource constraints and the need for hardening on multiple projects concurrently make it difficult to plan time in a strict agile way.
And, while they understand the value of frequent releases, executives also are concerned with ensuring the products of agile processes meet legal requirements, perform up to quality metrics, and deliver on time. These requirements warrant some sort of business process that integrates with the agile process to ensure alignment among the various departments. An overall product management process can work hand in hand with your agile development process to ensure your organization not only delivers a high-quality product for your users, but also executes and tracks the external communications and end-to-end plans needed to effectively market, sell, distribute, and support the release.
Benefits of Agile to Executives
Strictly speaking, the agile process doesn’t cover non-engineering items for product releases, but executives see many benefits to agile that help the business overall.
The most obvious benefit of agile is faster releases. Executives can easily get behind the shorter release cycles, because they want the additional value-packed features out in the market more quickly. New product features properly marketed translate to more new customers and more sales, the primary goal of any business. Even if is the team has mastered only the faster release of service packs ickly, you are addressing customer issues in a timelier manner. These quick responses make existing customers happy, which leads to more repeat business from those customers.
Direct and frequent customer feedback also appeals to executives. Working directly with customers as you develop the product helps the organization see the impact of your work on customers and their needs. Frequent feedback keeps you on course and helps ensure you are developing high-value features that really address customer pain points. Ultimately, this translates into more money from new customers because they see you fixing their issues, and from existing customers because they continue to renew their maintenance with your company.
The third benefit that appeals most to executives comes from the agile process is increased adaptability and flexibility of team members and processes. With increased flexibility of processes to change course throughout the release cycle readies the whole organization to take on specific needs for a large customer, or to change direction when customer feedback signals a course change. Adaptive and flexible processes and teams ensure that the company keep up with a demanding market, and avoids overinvesting in a solution that may not solve your customers’ problems.
Effect on Writers
At times, the focus on these higher-level benefits and business needs can overshadow the specific workings of the agile process. The reality is that sometimes the Engineering team (writers included) must throw agile process out the window to deal with a larger business need. Similarly, there will be times when demands a faster release, and writers can’t do what they consider to be a proper job.
How can writers be effective and successful in the agile process while keeping these higher-level executive focuses in mind? Be flexible. Know that while the agile process helps integrate writers into the larger team, there will be times that your team won’t follow it like you normally would, and that’s okay. Be there to help however you can. Learn to let little things go. Sometimes you don’t need to write perfect documentation. In these times, when most people Google for information about a product, good enough documentation (or scrapping written documentation in favor of a quick video to explain a new feature) often serves everyone’s interests more effectively.
As a writer, you need to know how you fit into your organization’s agile process. But just as important to you and the organization, is your awareness of how you fit into the overall business. Your executives are likely thinking strategically, rather than tactically, and they focus on enterprise-level initiatives and benefits. That means you may need to adapt to changing circumstances—to understand why you may use the agile process in some situations and not in others. Being adaptable makes you more valuable to your organization, and your executives will never argue with that.