Introduction to Agile: Continuous Improvement

By Wunderer

Regularly reviewing what we’re doing and how we do it is important to improving the quality of the delivery. Agile has checkpoints in every iteration that give us time to stop and reflect.

During these retrospectives, we look at how we delivered, which elements of our approach we’d like to take into the next iteration, and what needs to be avoided or improved.

Traditional projects management see spikes in the activity during the early and late stages of a project. It develops a complete product and we have to wait until the end of the project before we can test it and improve it.

Review and Improvement

Agile builds in regular reviews for us to reflect on work, identify improvements and implement them. We can plan and estimate accurately, and take an efficient and more measurable approach to delivery.

As an Agile project develops we are able to understand our through-put and reflect this in the planning. We can set realistic expectations which are fed into the business, preventing the team from being tasked with delivering more than possible.

If we break down the project into iterations and deliver working software at the end of each, then testing the product can happen throughout and we can get timely feedback from users. Demonstrating working software is a much better way of reporting progress than documents and spreadsheets.

But also, by providing the customer with a version of the product to test and play with, they provide us with valuable input. This information enables us to tweak the product continually in order to deliver something that will make a real difference, that will be accepted and be fit for purpose.

As well as reviewing the work done, Agile includes ‘retrospectives’ in which the team review the way they work, to look for things to keep doing, things to improve, and problems to solve — and decide what actions to take in the next sprint to increase productivity, quality and team happiness.

Efficiency and Quality

By reviewing how we deliver and what we deliver on a regular basis, we can continually strive to do everything in the best way. Our service to the customer is efficient, the quality is high and the customer will be aware of the improvements that we’re making specific to their project. Alarm bells can sound at an early point in the process if there are any problems, and these problems can be addressed before they become too serious.

The customer benefits from receiving more accurate estimations that can be regularly reviewed based on new information, and are in turn able to provide accurate assurances to stakeholders. The product that’s delivered is high quality, fit for purpose and includes the various changes the customer described in the requirements throughout the project.

Knowledge for the Future

In order to achieve continuous improvement, review the project regularly — and take advantage of feedback, new knowledge and other opportunities to improve. Through this approach, and the structured meetings — such as sprint reviews and retrospectives — that agile provides, continually look for ways to improve what is developed, how it’s delivered and the overall service that the customer receives.

Change, whether big or small, should be quantified before being implemented. By recording the decisions we make we’re able to review those changes over time, understand the valuable changes we made and the bad decisions we took. Keeping a history of change and improvement is a valuable management tool, providing substance to our decision-making, showing the paths we’ve taken to get where we are and helping us make decisions about our future journeys.