7 must-know terms about agile operations

February 20, 20174 Minute Read

The average employee attends 62 meetings a month—and about half of them are a complete waste of time, according to research by Atlassian. And it’s not just precious time we’re squandering: Poorly run meetings cost Canadians over $20 billion in lost productivity. Given these numbers, it’s no wonder everyone from your entry-level employees to your CEO rolls their eyes each time they receive a calendar invite. Meetings are disruptive, largely inefficient, and downright annoying. But with agile operations, they don’t have to be.

In organizations that follow agile operations—where all departments are working simultaneously on various pieces of a project—communication is critical, time is essential, and meetings are a well-organized art form. The agile methodology is an alternative to the traditional waterfall project management model where projects are completed one department at a time. It creates an environment with fewer inefficient meetings and less wasted time. We’re going to take a look at a few of the tactics executed by organizations successful in agile operations.

Characteristics of truly agile operations

As a professional in the tech world, chances are you’ve heard the term “agile” somewhere between one and ten million times. Software execs and operations gurus love to throw this buzzword around almost as much as big data.

According to Agilemethodology.org, “Agile approaches help teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences, known as sprints.” But what does a successful agile environment look like? Here are seven key tactics adopted by champions of agile operations:

1. Daily stand-ups

While settling into a well-cushioned chair, facing a plate piled high with tasty refreshments is the way many professionals imagine a perfect meeting, stand-up meetings rely on discomfort as the key to efficiency. The idea is that by gathering the team in a small, standing huddle, meetings will be brief and concise. A similar way to think of it is the adoption of the walking meeting, which companies like Facebook and Pixar have adopted to boost collaboration.

2. Scrum meetings

These daily meetings, which may also be stand-up meetings, are generally held every morning, in the same location, and at the same time, for about 15 minutes. The leader (or Scrum Master) asks each team member to answer three questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. Are there any impediments in your way?

3. Sprints

This is a unit of measurement of a project cycle, or a “timeboxed” event with a clear beginning and end, lasting between one and four weeks. A project may have many sprints, with each department committed to specific objectives. To uphold the standards of agile operations, a sprint is usually inflexible.

4. The 80/20 rule

Have you ever spent a great deal of time overthinking a decision, only to return to your original conclusion? Agile strives to prevent this by recognizing 20 percent of the effort put into a project is productive, and the remaining 80 percent is a waste of time. The agile methodology teaches teams to stay within the 20 percent, complete a task, and move onto the next sprint.

5. Burndown chart

Visuals help teams recognize the big picture, and burndown charts are highly effective in keeping professionals on task. In this chart, the x-axis shows the project time line, while the y-axis represents the amount of work left to be completed. A straight line is drawn from the top of the y-axis to the end of the x-axis, and each day a point is added to represent the amount of work completed. If the point is above the line, the teams are ahead of schedule. If below, the project is behind.

6. User stories

User stories are high-level, simple definitions of software functionality written with the end user in mind. These stories define what must be built within the project during a sprint and are considered requirements. For example, a banking application software company may include the user story, “As a user, I want to be able to check my savings account balance.”

7. Test-driven development

After each sprint is completed, agile organizations define test cases to validate user stories. In other words, quality assurance tests the functionality of the product to ensure all requirements are met before the next sprint or before the product is released.

As with most methodologies, each organization has its own unique tactics and style of project management. However, to be truly effective as an agile environment, all teams must commit to the methodology. These seven tactics are essential to success in this space.

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