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Being Agile for VSBs
Applying Agile development to very small business (VSB) projects

"Agile Development" is an umbrella term for several iterative and incremental software development methodologies. The most popular agile methodologies include Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Lean Development, and Feature-Driven Development (FDD)."
 
Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain. The overall idea is to create a team that attacks a project from many different directions simultaneously. That doesn't mean we attach without a plan.  Each of the acronyms used in the paragraph above is basically an attack plan. I personally relate to Scrum - as in rugby scrum. The difference is it is one team pushing together and toward a goal. Now the trick for a company that does design, development, marketing and maintenance services for "very small businesses" or VSBs, and small nonprofits is, how does a team of two or three create a scrum? First, it helps to see what Agile looks like.
 
 
Image provided via Creative Commons license provided by www.versionone.com
 
According to Version One, a leading Agile management platform provider, "All of the methodologies fundamentally incorporate iteration and the continuous feedback that it provides to successively refine and deliver a software system. They all involve continuous planning, continuous testing, continuous integration, and other forms of continuous evolution of both the project and the software. They are all lightweight (especially compared to traditional waterfall-style processes), and inherently adaptable. As important, they all focus on empowering people to collaborate and make decisions together quickly and effectively."
 
For us, the question is "how do we adopt Agile to benefit smaller teams - teams of no more than three people in most instances?" The answers showed up in the Agile Manifesto that got the ball rolling for the entire Agile movement.
 
Agile Manifesto

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicitythe art of maximizing the amount of work not doneis essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
For more about the Agile Manifesto visit www.agilemanifesto.org
 
While some of the principles can't apply to a VSB, a variation of each of these principles can be. Things like "work together daily" is almost impossible for any small business owner I know, as an example. In many cases we will create a variation of an Agile Manifesto principle that doesn't exactly fit for use with a specific project. We also believe that the Agile model illustrated in the graphic above can be simplified somewhat without loosing the context that Agile provides.
 
By eliminating some of the processes that could impede progress for a VSB project and repurposing some of the language contained in each of the spirals, we are still able to illustrate a complete flow.  We also incorporate "Shared Purpose" at the front end of the development cycle and "Leadership Sharing" throughout in addition to "Values" and "Visibility".  These added priciples ensure all stakeholders - the project owner, leader and staff share responsibilities, expectations and leadership. By sharing leadership we are reinforcing the Manifesto's principle "trust them to get the job done".
 
For more about Agile, the planning and execution process, and the methods we use to ensure project and program success, email me at dave@readywebgo.com anytime.
 
 
 
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