The business benefits of Agile and Lean are often misunderstood. I’ve seen this lead to painful attempts.
Non-technical people often buy into Agile and Lean as a faster way to build what they want. They try to employ developers without seeking to understand the process of developing software. Frustration results.
At the other extreme, I’ve seen teams get excited then go through the motions without getting the gain - creating MVPs or using Pivotal Tracker - and finding it just leads to wheel-spinning and wasted effort.
Having been through both of these scenarios myself, I find it helpful to explain Lean and Agile in terms business proficiency rather than development methodology, focusing is on the improvements offered to the whole business. How do Agile/Lean offer lower management overhead, faster response to market, and more informed decision making? Understanding this helps put the process into context.
I’m also aware that I still have a lot to learn from experienced Leanists and Agilists, so this is an invitation to be taught as much as it is an attempt to explain.
Delegating responsibility for customer feedback – for example to Support or Customer Development – strips the team of their ability to regularly see how their actions affect their customers. Frequently deploying your product in front of customers gives the whole team customer feedback on a regular basis - a massive benefit that’s often overlooked.
Also, pre-planned iterations strip of you the ability to react and adapt. If you’re turning milestones and deadlines from project plans into iterations or sprints, you’re probably losing out on the course-correction opportunities.
Before, when you had a new idea, you and your team had to make the decision with a lot of unknowns. Should we build this or that feature? What will it look like? Should we charge for it? Will it affect support costs? How should the UI work? How much functionality is enough?
There was a lot to “get right” if that idea was going to work so the initial idea led to deep discussions. Lots of opinions, guesses and discussions, all the possible ways it could go wrong and how to prevent that. Then the planning. Then, you’d actually start! Because of the high cost of making decisions with so many unknowns, are your small decisions taking longer?
With Agile and Lean production in place, you can start to collect information at the outset, before the key decision is made, and reduce the risk and cost of “getting it wrong.” Separate questions can be answered by making immediate but small deployments to a subset of users, and actually measuring the effect. Real information becomes easier to collect, and lowers decision-making costs. You can test a feature, or make a small change to your support documents, and know the effect.
This means that when you make big decisions, you actually have answers in your hands, rather than guesses, so you can act more decisively.
And since you can deploy code in smaller parts, you don’t have to plan it all in advance. There’s less to get right and less to predict and discuss. Because decisions are made with real information rather than educated guesses, they become easier, more frequent and correct more often.