shutterstock_186484241The business world is abuzz with the word Agile. Everyone’s talking about it, but not that many people are doing it properly.

Whether you are an established business or a startup Agile can help you react quickly to market changes, save money and have happier staff. What’s not to love?

This article is an introduction to Agile, outlining the basics. Another time we can look at practical tips on how to implement Agile in your business.

So what is Agile?

Agile working as it is today is a cocktail of various working practices from Japanese automotive manufacturing to lean software development. Agile is a philosophy rather than a methodology – although there are some well known frameworks (such as scrum) you don’t need to follow any specific processes, instead you should work in an Agile way – using as much or as little process as you like.

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”


The Agile manifesto sums it up quite nicely:

  • “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan”

Although the manifesto is software based, the principles can be applied to any kind of business.

There is a global movement among business to move towards Agile at an enterprise level, for example see this explanation of how BT made the Agile transition.

Why use Agile?

Working in an Agile way can achieve the following:


Think about the market rather than completing projects. This results in delivering value rather than ‘things’. Focusing on projects can lead to teams carrying out unnecessary or irrelevant work because the market has changed during the project lifespan and yet you are trapped into reaching a delivery that was set months ago.

Instead try thinking about what value do you want to unlock? An increase in conversions? Higher basket value? And then ask what you can do now that will result in achieving this value.


Large projects that are defined in detail up front include an inherent risk as it’s not possible to see into the future. Inevitably as the project progresses and life happens things get in the way of completing the project on time or to budget – the client requests changes, a key member of the team goes on holiday, a meteor strikes down your main supplier.

Working in an Agile way means you break work down into smaller, easier to define chunks. Each chunk of work must be shippable before you move on to the next chunk. If you are also focused on value then each chunk of work helps you improve your product/business in the real world. Much better than long projects that risk being over budget/over time or obsolete by the time you finish them.


shutterstock_142610056Agile encourages collaborative cross-functional and self-organising working. In English, this means getting all of the people needed to complete a piece of work together even if they don’t work in the same department. Sales, marketing, development, data – whatever your teams are.

Then sit the relevant people together in the same place for the duration of the piece of work. That way they can talk easily, ideas can flow and the experts who know each part of the product can input when needed.

The end result is a better quality product, often with more innovation and a happier workforce who feel empowered to make positive decisions.

Speed and change

Breaking the work down into small chunks, ensuring that each piece of work is shippable before you move on to something else and making sure you pick things that will achieve value for you now means that inevitably the pace of your product development speeds up. You can choose a release cycle that is most appropriate for you – tech startups frequently use 2 week cycles (or ‘sprints’) but anything up to a month is acceptable.

“Breaking the work down into small chunks, means that the pace of your product development speeds up”


This way at the end of each sprint you have something you can release into the real world. So you are faster. Plus at the end of each sprint you can decide on what to do next. This means that if you are using 2 week sprints for example, every fortnight you can make a change to your plan. This helps make change – which is an inevitable part of any project – manageable and planned for, rather than a problem that takes you off schedule.

Although Agile has many benefits and when implemented properly can result in a really great way to do business, there are some challenges. Some factors of corporate life exist however hard you try to ignore them – like deadlines. It is possible to marry the realities of corporate life with the utopian vision of Agile and live happily ever after however that is best left for another article.