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What is agile methodology? How did it come about?

The history of Agile

In the United States, agile as a project management approach was introduced to the world in 2001. At a ski resort in the Wasatch mountains of Utah, 17 self-proclaimed organisational anarchists came together and combined several lightweight processes to create what we know today as the Agile Manifesto.

The creators of Agile intended it to be a set of values and principles that would improve upon and transform existing software development processes, but companies in various industries quickly saw the value of Agile, too. Soon, Agile was adopted across all fields.

Agile methodology is a way of breaking large technology development projects down into smaller phases - iteratively planning, building and launching smaller blocks instead of waiting for the whole project (read software) to be ready for launch.

As financial institutions grow bigger in size and business, it is easy for teams and projects to slide into silos. If business teams need something done, they send out the request to the IT team. The IT team takes up the requirement, does their research and due diligence, and come back to the business team after a couple of months with a finished product.

This end product may or may not be what the business team wanted. Or, due to external reasons, the requirements could have changed. But because the product is now built out, there is no easy way of incorporating the required changes!

This is where agile methodology and mindset can greatly help banks and NBFCs run their daily operations more effectively and efficiently.

Adopting an Agile mindset: The Agile Manifesto

The agile manifesto is made up of four values and 12 principles that define the mindset that all Agile teams should strive for.

How can agile methodology help financial institutions? Adapting agile methodology can help banks and financial institutions bridge the gap across:

  1. The leadership’s vision for future

  2. The delivery team’s ability to deliver on expectations

  3. Collaboration required with business teams and customers

Agile values and principles

Agile is a highly collaborative approach suited for very complex and competitive projects. In this reading, we’ll briefly explore the four values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto.

The Agile values refer to the following four statements:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change by following a plan

Agile experts see these values as important underpinnings of the highest-performing teams, and every team member should strive to live by these values to apply the full benefits of Agile.

This is done by adopting the 12 principles defined in the original Agile Manifesto:

  1. Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software: The first goal, which acts as the foundational principle of agile, is to keep your customers satisfied! In our quest for perfection, we should not lose precious time in over-analysis and overthinking.

  2. Welcome changing requirements, even in late development: Because agile processes streamline efforts for building towards the outcome - which is a product that makes customers feel satisfied, software teams should have the ability to handle last-minute improvements, if that means a better experience for the end customers.

  3. Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months): Break a project into smaller parts, keep building the smaller blocks and regularly release them to the end customer for their feedback. Quicker feedback leads to faster iterations, which leads to a better-refined product.

  4. Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers: Breaking down silos, and ensuring all stakeholders work together and are updated on the progress of the project is a core tenet of agile methodology. It promotes higher transparency and keeps all stakeholders involved, till the outcome is achieved.

  5. Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted: Since a larger project is broken down into sub-projects, these sub-projects should be driven by teams with the highest motivation and clarity on how this helps the end user, along with the ability to deliver the right outcome for the sub-project.

  6. A face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location): Ensuring consistent face time amongst team members, using daily stand-ups, weekly reviews and sprint retrospectives is the best way to keep motivation and involvement running high, so that the team can jointly deliver on the expected outcomes.

  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress: It is easy to get distracted in the fast-moving, ever-evolving world of technology and finance. Hence, the north star and primary measure for any project’s success (software or otherwise) should be the quality of the product delivered to the end customer.

  8. Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace: Because agile development ensures we break bigger projects down into smaller blocks to be built at a consistent pace, it ensures that the projects are built in a sustainable manner, not by overloading any one team or period. This avoids burnout and ensures predictability.

  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design: This principle ensures that the task is not done after the first launch. Because the ethos of agile, and a sustainable way of building great products in general, is to continuously improve a product. Each iteration should ensure an incremental improvement in the end customer’s experience.

  10. Simplicity—the art of maximising the amount of work not done is essential: Keeping things simple is what this principle over arches on. All thoughts should be vetted at the planning stage. Once the larger plan has been broken down into smaller phases, the goal should be to execute the roadmap of each phase. And not overthink and try to add more stuff to every phase.

  11. Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams: As mentioned in point 5 of this manifesto, since teams are organised around individuals who are motivated to meet the goal of a sub-project, crucial bandwidth of the management can be saved in avoiding micro managerial tasks and redirected elsewhere.

  12. Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly: Agile methodology of project management accounts for a need to reflect upon the ongoing progress, blockers and overall strategy of a project using daily stand-ups, weekly/fortnightly reviews, and sprint retrospectives. This ensures that teams take stock of on-ground realities at regular intervals.

While many of the principles adopted in the agile manifesto can come across as common sense, the rigour of following a rinse-and-repeat strategy is uncommon - doing the boring tasks in the right way every day leads to compounding benefits over time.

If you are part of a financial institution and looking for a guide who can steer you to the right way of implementing agile methodology at your organization at scale - reach out to us at today.


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