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Expert Q&A: Should My Software Development Team Be Wary of Agile?

During the last two decades, agile principles have been transforming the way software development teams approach outsourcing projects. For many vendors and digital agencies, agile became synonymous with innovation, speed, creativity, and continuous improvement.

In line with the worldwide trend, Oxagile has been expanding the use of agile methodologies — such as Scrum and Kanban — to deliver complex solutions in time-constrained and changeable conditions. Still, it is not unusual to encounter a client or a stakeholder who is sceptical about the benefits of using an agile software development team.

We sat down with our project managers and solution advisors to define the most prevalent misconceptions about agile teams and weigh them against Oxagile’s expertise.

“Will the quality of my product suffer?”

Julia, project manager:

“That’s definitely one of the top concerns customers voice to me when we start the discussion. Some of them perceive agile as unsuited for developing mission-critical solutions because of less rigorous upfront planning, no far-reaching estimates, or simply because they tried agile in the past with a different team and ended up disappointed.

What I then have to demonstrate is how agile methodologies, when applied correctly, can provide more value on mid- and long-term, resource-intensive projects such as, say, a large OTT platform or an enterprise-wide workflow management system.

One of the core conventions of agile is to split a large problem into manageable bits, and focus on each one exclusively until the task is complete. With tighter feedback loops, every detail is double-checked and can be adjusted right away; there are less cracks for errors to slip through and early mistakes are not allowed to fester.

Over 80% of Oxagile’s Scrum-based projects delivered products that met all of the client’s quality benchmarks. On one of my projects, the client agreed to switch to agile almost halfway through development, and the number of major and critical issues plummeted by the next review.

So no, agile is no enemy of product quality. Quite the opposite, it might be the most quality-driven approach there is.”

“Is it true that agile and off-site teams don’t mix?”

Alexander, senior solutions advisor:

“The opinion I often hear during negotiations is that agile doesn’t cut it when some or all members of the team are not working onsite for the entire project. That is to say, agile teams can only deliver with the client’s strict oversight.

I strongly disagree with this take. In my experience, when the agile process is well-structured and the distributed team has established clear rules of communication from day one, there’s no reason to keep everyone in the same room, or the same country, or even the same time zone.

As for dedicated software development teams, it’s a very successful model of cooperation in Oxagile’s track record, and its benefits are only amplified when agile is thrown into the mix.

Agile encourages 100% transparency and accountability by its very nature, so wherever our clients are located, they have unlimited access to progress reports and team efficiency metrics.

That said, some team members do spend a period of time onsite as a way of establishing good rapport with the stakeholders or to map out complex business logic before key stages.”

“With agile, do I have to oversee every step of development?”

Oleg, project manager:

“We get all sorts. For every client willing to monitor every aspect of development, there will be clients averse to close involvement. The incremental nature of agile with regular retrospectives and course correction can appear needlessly fussy for people used to straightforward workflows.

The product owner’s involvement is very important in agile, but it doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming. Over the years I’ve worked with clients who had little in-house technical expertise or little time to spare for meetups with the team, but we never let that become a problem.

We arrange the process in a way that gives the product owner full visibility into crucial changes and uses their time in the most efficient way. Moreover, it’s common for Oxagile’s scrum masters to assist the product owner in decision-making or, if it comes to it, to take on the product owner’s responsibilities.

Harvard Business Review once put it this way: agile teams value outcomes more than outputs. When the desired outcome is specified, the team will plan and prioritize tasks in a way that allows achieving it, with or without daily discussions with the client’s side.

Similarly, we want our clients to succeed and we go the extra mile to make it happen.”

“How do I cap the costs on an agile-based project?”

Stas, solutions advisor:

“It’s a popular perception that agile projects are more expensive than waterfall projects. As you can imagine, this sweeping statement does not reflect reality very well.

For example, agile projects I work on essentially come in two flavors: full-feature or fixed budget. Some clients are prepared to exceed the budget target and bring 100% of their vision to life, others prefer to be flexible in matters of scope. Any overspending is anticipated well in advance, due to sophisticated metrics and dashboards that we employ.

This is why I’d argue that methodologies like Scrum provide more transparency and even better cost control, while waterfall often gets really expensive due to change requests.”

“Doesn’t agile mean the team has no clear plan of action?”

Boris, project manager:

“Clients who had a previous negative experience with agile mention countless release cycles, missed deadlines, and other effects of poor planning. All I can say is, that’s not how things are supposed to work in a mature, coordinated agile process.

It’s true that agile projects often kick off without extensive elaboration. However, careful planning is still incredibly important, only it happens throughout the entire project, not just at the start. Agile’s iterative nature disciplines the development team, brings inefficiencies to the surface, and reduces the number of unexpected risks.

In my opinion, agile makes it easier to meet deadlines. First, there’s the ability to manage the scope and prioritize some features over others. Second, agile methodologies have in-built mechanisms to discourage last-minute scope expansion, including DoR and WIP limits. Scope restrictions improve team focus, which translates into better efficiency and keeps the project from losing steam.

Long story short, only go agile with people who can prove they know what they’re doing.”

The Verdict

Choosing agile for your project is a great way to get the product you expect when you expect it.

To make it a success, it is essential to choose a software development team that can showcase a substantial agile-based portfolio and offer meaningful advice on the right choice of methodology without pigeonholing your project.

Starting in 2008, we’ve been using agile to drive digital transformation for the likes of Google and Discovery Communications. Looking for a team of professionals who can tackle changing requirements and brutal deadlines? Drop us a line and let a Scrum expert get back to you ASAP.
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