Agile Benefits: Rapid Learning

So what exactly are the benefits of agile? Why are people, teams and organizations so interested in agile processes? What about agile caused it to become a popular and rapidly growing approach to working? I have seen five essential benefits that come from implementing an agile methodology. Here I describe what I think of as the most important benefit of agile: rapid learning.

Rapid Learning

Ken Schwaber tells an anecdote about Scrum:

I was talking with the CIO of a large organization. He complained to me that he would run projects that would take 12 to 18 months and at the end of the project he would get something that he didn’t actually want. I told him that I can deliver what he doesn’t want in one month.

This is one of the clearest advantages of an agile approach: rapid deliver helps you learn what you truly want and need because you can see actual results instead of “intermediate” results. If you are building software, you can see a working system and get real concrete feedback about it. Users, consumers, and other stakeholders can participate more effectively in determining what you are building.

That’s learning about the product… but agile methods also allow you to learn about the process used to build the product. Every time a team of people goes through an iteration of work, they learn how to do that work more effectively, more efficiently. At the end of each iteration there is an opportunity to change the style of work.

Learning about product and learning about process are both accelerated by an agile approach. The shorter your cycles (iterations, Sprints), the faster and more effective your learning.

Unfortunately, the catalyst for learning tends to be crisis or “failure”. As Ken’s anecdote describes, the first iterations will almost certainly deliver incorrect or poor results. Not only that, but the compressed time cycle is challenging for those not used to it. The crisis comes out in many different ways, and being aware of this feature of agile methods is critical to gaining the benefit of rapid learning.

Agile Benefits: Rapid Learning
Agile Benefits: Early Return on Investment
Agile Benefits: Satisfied Stakeholders
Agile Benefits: Increased Control
Agile Benefits: Responsiveness to Change
Agile Benefits: Summary Article

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