Is Your Association or Nonprofit Interested in Agile Development? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Dave Coriale, CAE | 10.26.17
Topics: Everything Else

Developers in the software industry are increasingly letting go of conventional development methods and rapidly embracing the agile process. For these methods to work for your organization, your association or nonprofit needs to be ready for change.

Do you understand the agile approach and what it means for your project team during implementation? Agile isn’t about the development cycle, it’s about the entire process and affects everyone involved. After all, transforming from a waterfall to agile methodology can be a difficult choice—especially when you’re not sure what to expect.

What to Look for When Transforming from a Waterfall Approach to an Agile Development Lifecycle

Before you begin, assess your association’s culture.

Agile relies on a collaborative and trusting culture. Agile is not the free-for-all or wild west of development that some might assume, but it does enable—even require—frequent small changes. Not all cultures readily accept change during a system development process. Be honest about whether yours does, or can.

Agile also requires a great deal of teamwork. Developers, engineers, end-users, and executives need to work together to define and refine a solution. If your culture is rule-based, autocratic, and ‘buttoned up,’ agile might not be a good fit for you.

For a successful agile transformation, establish a common vocabulary. 

When agile processes are introduced to an organization, it’s not uncommon for team members to know bits and pieces of the methodology—they’ve likely heard some of the common terms before. To fully embrace agile, organizations need to establish a comprehensive vocabulary to ensure everyone is on the same page.

For example, staff may think they know what common agile words like sprint, iteration, and scrum mean, but sharing and adopting a clear and common meaning for each term will help your team avoid confusion and delays.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: training is imperative.

You can’t convince your team to switch to an agile process and then just leave them in the dark. Project managers and technology experts who are accustomed to adhering to the waterfall methodology need to understand how their roles and contributions will change.

If it helps, compare and contrast the two methodologies to help staff see how the development lifecycle may change, including risks and rewards. Remind team members that the overall building blocks are the same—scope of work, user needs, planning, cost, etc.—it’s the sequence that’s different.

Like any project, transitioning to agile development relies on good change management practices.

Most people are skeptical of change—it's risky and unsettling. Swapping out your ‘tried and true’ waterfall methodology for an agile approach is no different. You’ll experience hesitation from your colleagues—and sometimes even organizational leaders—when implementing agile methods.

Agile leans heavily on strong change management processes. During development, requirements evolve, inviting more input and clarification of the final product—and forcing more team members to be more heavily involved throughout the project. Be prepared for hesitation and pushback.

Project team roles will change, too. Your team needs to be trained and prepared for differences in approval processes, project management, and time commitments.

Source: example, during a waterfall project, a subject matter expert is typically involved in requirements gathering and final approval. During agile development, that same team member will be called upon throughout the project to define, review, and test solutions. This cycle will repeat until each particular product function is completed. Each team member should be aware of these expectations, understand their individual impact on the project’s success, and prepare for ongoing involvement.

You can counter hesitation by showing your team the benefits of agile development to your association or nonprofit, including:

  • Continuous requirements validation
  • Early detection of problems and changes
  • Greater team member engagement
  • Better knowledge transfer between stakeholder groups
  • Analysis of the effect of changing requirements
  • Improved collaboration throughout project

Make collaboration and communication the cornerstone of your project.

Introducing your organization to a new IT development process takes time, face-to-face collaboration, and a strong communication strategy. In the Agile Manifesto, the sixth principle says it all:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

While this is true, digital communication also plays a key role in both change management and agile implementation. Agile relies on frequent, back-and-forth communication. To transform your organization to a more agile, quick-moving machine, clear, open, frequent communication is key. Train team members to be engaged and responsive.

Furthermore, with staff and developers working from any variety of locales, your team must understand when and how to communicate remotely. Sharepoint, Huddle, Basecamp, and Office365 are all virtual collaboration tools your organization might adopt to facilitate communication.

Don’t mistake this advice as a prescription to adopt agile, stat. We’re not saying that one method is better than the other. Carefully consider your culture, project, and goals before deciding upon the correct approach—or transitioning to a new one. Switching from waterfall to agile doesn’t happen overnight nor without plenty of training and preparation to lay the groundwork for a successful implementation.

If you still need some helpful tips, we’ve got your back! Drop us a line.

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