What is agile tool

Agile Methods: The Comprehensive Guide

This is our complete guide to agile methods. Here you will find an introduction to agile methods and in-depth knowledge about agility. In this guide you will discover the difference between agile methods and tools.

One thing is important to me: I want to show you that agile work and the use of agile methods are not rocket science. Agile methods can be used hands-on - and that is why they are especially suitable for SMEs who like to try out new approaches in their everyday work. With this in mind, I hope you enjoy reading our guide to agile methods and tools.

Let's get started!

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Agile working

What does agile work mean?

Agile work means the use of agile tools and agile methods based on the 4 agile values ​​and the 12 agile principles. Depending on the complexity, agile tools can be used to build an agile mindset. An agile mindset consists of values, attitudes and behaviors that are in line with the agile principles and values. Agile work can only succeed if the agile mindset is established.

Agile work works according to completely different principles and values ​​than traditional work. In fact, working agile requires completely different attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. In other words - agile employees behave completely differently. The use of agile tools is also possible without a pronounced agile mindset. Indeed, the continuous and gradual application of agile tools can bring about a change in attitudes, beliefs and behavior. We recommend first using agile tools in a team and gaining experience. Only when the team has accepted the tools should agile methods be used. In the next few chapters, we will work out the difference between agile tools and agile methods.

We took a superficial look at agile work and found that agile tools are a first step in establishing agile work in the company and building an agile mindset. In the next chapter we look at the classification of methods and tools.

Chapter 1: Choosing agile methods and tools

Which agile tools and methods do you choose and when?

Depending on the company or project environment you are in, some agile methods are better suited than others. With the Stacey matrix, agile methods can be selected precisely.

The Stacey matrix enables the selection of agile methods based on 2 dimensions. The degree of awareness of the customer's needs can be found on the X-axis. The values ​​range from “known” (left) to “unknown” (right). The Y-axis describes the awareness of the solutions. The values ​​also range from “known” (below) to “unknown” (above). The methods can now be classified in the resulting coordinate system. For this purpose, 4 areas are defined in the Stacey matrix. The first area describes methods that are suitable for implementing known needs with known solutions. The second area describes such projects in which a large part of the needs and solutions are known, but not all. The third area is characterized by complexity. Most of the needs are known. The same applies to the possible solutions. However, the selection of the right requirements and technical components is unclear. The third area is characterized by complexity. Technologies and requirements change continuously due to the influence of people. Change is the order of the day. Nevertheless, the technology used and the requirements are largely known. In the fourth sector there are projects and tasks where there is uncertainty about the requirements and the technology to be used. Tasks in this sector are chaotic - in other words, fundamental knowledge about requirements and technology must first be gathered here. All sectors are ideally managed with OKRs, the agile management method.

We know an approach according to which we can classify agile methods and tools. Next, we work out the differences between agile tools and agile methods.

Chapter 2: Agile tools

What are agile tools?

Agile tools can usually be integrated into everyday work without any problems. Most of the time, agile tools are a starting point for building an agile mindset and agile work in the company.

Kanban is one of the most well-known tools. But tools such as the daily stand-up meeting and the retrospective can also be used quickly. With the agile tools, teams can gain initial experience in working on agile values ​​and principles. Once these are internalized, you may even be able to develop your own agile tools and methods. Agile tools usually lead to quick successes, positive experiences and thus to small changes in behavior.

Agile tools are a good introduction to agile work and the agile mindset. Once they have gained initial experience with agile values, agile principles and tools, teams can start using methods.

Chapter 3: Agile methods

What are agile methods?

Agile methods describe certain procedures using agile tools. Agile methods usually form frameworks with which certain tasks can be solved repeatedly. Most agile methods are basically similar. They are all based on the agile values ​​and principles.

Design thinking, SCRUM and lean startup are among the best-known agile methods. Agile methods are a little more difficult to introduce in a company than agile tools. The team should already have gained initial experience with agile tools before dealing with the application of agile methods.

We got to know the agile methods. In the next chapter we will take a look at the different areas of application in the company.

Chapter 4: Use of agile methods and tools in the company

Where are agile tools and methods used in the company?

Agile tools are mostly used within the application of agile methods. Agile methods are used depending on the application. For example, there are agile methods for management, the implementation of projects, the development of products, working on innovations and company organization. We look at the tools and methods in detail ...

Agile methods and tools in everyday work

For normal work, agile tools are usually used in everyday work. If higher-level agile methods are already being used, this automatically results in the use of agile tools. In the following list you will find the common methods and tools that are used at the work level (operational use), detached from projects, products, etc.

  • Kanban = Tool with which processes are visualized on a board using columns. Tasks are entered by the team and managed on a daily basis. Tasks move through the columns from left to right. At least three columns are used (To Do, In Progress, Done). The columns can be created very flexibly and are based on the necessary process steps. The process is systematically improved through regular retrospectives (Kaizen).
  • Planning poker = Is a visual evaluation tool and is based on poker cards. The idea behind it is pretty simple. Each participant in the meeting receives poker cards with different weights. For example, if a task is to be assessed for its business value, each participant selects the card value that suits them best from their cards and places the card face down on the table. Then all participants reveal the cards. The mean value of the cards is determined and forms the business value. If the differences between the lowest and highest card are large, the two ratings are discussed. The aim is then to uncover the reasons for the lower or higher rating.
  • Daily stand-up meeting = An informal meeting of the entire team lasting approx. 15 minutes. In this meeting, each team member briefly reports on upcoming tasks and the progress made in tasks that have already started. The meeting is the ideal place to address hurdles and obstacles and to ask for help. The daily stand-up meeting can be ideally combined with Kanban. In this case, the Kanban board is used to organize, visualize and discuss the tasks.
  • Retrospective = A meeting of around 60 to 90 minutes at the end of a timebox (e.g. after a work week). In this meeting three questions related to the process will be discussed: What did not work (and needs to be improved)? What worked well (and can be kept)? What kind of improvement do we plan for the next run?
  • Timeboxing = Means that activities are given fixed times (timeboxes). These time specifications are adhered to under all circumstances. The aim of timeboxing is to prevent or systematically minimize waste of time. Common timeboxes are 15 minutes for the daily stand-up meeting, 60 to 90 minutes for the retrospective and 2 weeks for a sprint in SCRUM. As with all agile tools, it is up to you to find the right time frames.
  • Business value = Tasks are evaluated in terms of their value proposition. With the help of the evaluations, tasks can then be prioritized and sorted according to their value for the company. As a rule, business value is proven in three dimensions. First, the value for the company - How much does the company benefit from the implementation of the task, for example in terms of sales? Second, the value for the user / customer - To what extent do the user and customer benefit from the implementation of the task? Third, what is the technical value? A sequence of tasks results from the three dimensions.
  • User stories: With user stories, requirements for an application, a product or a service from the perspective of the customer or user are formulated in everyday language. User stories can be elegantly derived from the customer's everyday life and the context of use. So-called user acceptance tests can be used to validate user stories with the help of prototypes. This reduces the risk of undesirable developments.
  • Task boards - A task board is a visual aid to visualize and organize the tasks and progress in a team. The Kanban board is, for example, a task board.
  • Definition-of-done - The definition-of-done is a list of all criteria that an end result must meet in order to be classified as finished. The definition of done is defined and documented jointly in the team. It then applies to all final results of the defined type.
  • Definition-of-Ready - The definition of ready is a list of all criteria and information that a task (or a backlog item) must fulfill in order to be approved for implementation. The definition of ready is often used to regulate the handover between two departments. The second team only takes on the task when the first trade can ensure the definition of ready for the second trade. For example, when handing over the design and concept to the programming.
  • Work-in-progress limits - Work-in-progress limits are a voluntary maximum number of tasks that can be in one column of the Kanban board at the same time. If the maximum number of a column is reached, a task in the column must be solved, deleted or downgraded.
  • Fuck-up hour / innovation hour - Two-week meeting in which employees can present the biggest mistakes of the past week. The idea behind this is that all team members learn from the individual mistake. The error can then be avoided in the future. If no errors have occurred in the two weeks, an innovation is presented instead. For example, these are personal working methods or tools.
  • Focus time - The focus time is a daily period of one hour. There are no meetings during this hour, the phones are off, and there is no small talk either. Instead, employees use the time to work on important tasks with full concentration. Experience shows that teams get more tasks done through the focus time.
  • Total update call - We named it like that. It is a weekly conference of all employees via Skype or Hangout at the end of the week. In this call, the team and the management reflect on the past week. In addition, the goals and tasks for the next week are addressed. This creates a platform for the exchange of knowledge within the team.

Agile methods and tools in leadership and management

Executives use agile methods and tools to lead teams on the strategic corporate vision.

  • OKR - A proven new way of leading teams on the corporate vision within the corporate values. OKR works with targets and quantitative results (key results). These are evaluated, evaluated and adjusted by the team in recurring time cycles. The time cycles are similar to those of the SCRUM.
  • Servant leadership - Denotes a new type of leadership. In this, the manager takes on the role of a service provider for his team. The Servant Leader serves the team as a coach and mentor, removes obstacles and takes measures to improve the team.

Agile methods and tools in projects

The use of agile methods in projects usually takes place when the requirements for the product are initially unclear. Most of the time, these projects move in a dynamic environment.

  • SCRUM - Is an agile approach to implementing (software) products. SCRUM is used when it can be assumed that only a small part of the requirements is already known. SCRUM is very easy to understand in theory. For practical application, however, you need a deeper understanding of agile work (agile mindset)
  • SCRUMban - Is the combination of SCRUM and Kanban. SCRUM is used as an external set of rules. Kanban serves the team to organize and improve recurring processes in the sprint.
  • Extreme programming - Extreme Programming (XP) is a method for software development in which the development of the solution takes precedence over compliance with formal rules. Extreme programming also runs in recurring cycles.

Agile methods and tools for products

The development of excellent products usually takes place in an environment of high uncertainty. Most of the time you don't know your customers in detail and the context of use is also unknown. With the methods and tools listed here, products can be implemented step by step. The focus is on the recurring testing of assumptions in the form of solution approaches with the customer or user.

  • Design thinking - Is a method for developing new innovative ideas. Different phases help first to understand the problem, then to generate possible solutions, to convert them into prototypes and finally to test them with users.
  • Lean UX - Is a method that uses simple tools and methods to develop applications directly with the customer or the user. Important tools are, for example, interviews with people on the street, quick paper prototypes and other prototypes that can be quickly produced and tested.
  • User-centered design - Describes a method in which the user is brought into the focus of all development activities. Lean-UX, for example, is based on the principles of user-centered design
  • Empathy Map - The empathy map is a tool to better understand a specific group of customers. For example, the tasks, goals, fears and wishes of the target group are analyzed and visualized. The empathy map can serve as a starting point for product development.
  • Google Design Sprint - The Google Design Sprint is an agile method in which new ideas and approaches are systematically developed over five days, converted into prototypes and tested with users.
  • MVPs - Minimum-Viable-Products are test balloons with which success-critical assumptions about customers and their needs can be tested directly on the market. An MVP is part of the lean startup method, but can also be used in a different context.
  • Value proposition design - The value proposition design canvas is a design tool with which customer needs, wishes, fears and tasks are recorded. New benefit promises, services and products can then be developed to match the findings.

Agile methods and tools for innovation

In modern markets, it is often no longer enough to pursue evolutionary product maintenance. Customers expect innovations and companies are looking for innovations that will change the market. Innovation mostly affects the business idea and the business model. Consequently, the agile methods and tools presented here focus on the development of new business ideas and business models.

  • Design thinking - See above.
  • Value proposition design - See above.
  • Business model generation - The business model canvas is probably the best-known agile design tool for modeling and visualizing business models. With the BMC, business models can be built up from nine blocks. Two of these blocks are filled with the information from the value proposition canvas.
  • Customer development method - The customer development method describes the entire path from the business idea, through the business model, the conquest of the market to the finished company. The lean startup method is integrated into customer development.
  • Lean startup method - The lean startup method describes how assumptions about business ideas and business models can be tested directly on the market at an early stage. For this purpose, the build-measure-learn cycle is repeated. In the BML cycle, MVPs are tested directly with potential customers. The results enable decisions to be made regarding changes in direction (pivots).
  • Open innovation - Open innovation is an approach in which customers are integrated into the development of new products and services. There are different approaches to this.

Agile methods for the agile company organization

The implementation of an agile corporate organization is practically the supreme discipline in agility. In the agile corporate organization, the classic hierarchy of people is replaced by a hierarchy of tasks. It is a rumor that agile corporate organizations can do without a hierarchy. In fact, they simply use a completely different framework than traditional leadership.

  • Holocracy and Sociocracy - Holacracy grew out of the early concepts of sociocracy. The approaches are now similar again. In agile corporate organizations, projects and tasks are carried out in so-called, self-organizing and self-responsible circles. In the circles people work in so-called roles. Each employee can have several roles and participate in different circles. Formal roles lead and optimize the circle. Overall, the approaches follow the basic ideas of agile work: self-organization, self-responsibility, continuous improvement and self-alignment.

We got to know the agile tools and agile methods. We learned how and where the tools and methods are used in the company. But what are the goals that should be achieved through the use of agile approaches?

Chapter 5: Goals for the use of agile methods and tools

Which goals are agile methods and tools used to achieve?

Agile methods and tools are used to make the company more adaptable, faster, more customer-oriented and more flexible. Agile methods and tools enable the team to process tasks faster, more efficiently and more effectively. The processing of the tasks is self-organized and self-responsible. Agile methods and tools provide sets of rules that adapt to the team and the company over time.

In traditionally run companies, security is created through command & control. As long as the corporate environment is stable and relatively unchangeable, such systems can work. It is noticeable, however, that in the past 10 years more and more traditionally run companies have found it difficult to keep up with the digital markets. Agile working methods can be possible solutions in such cases. However, a traditionally positioned company needs staying power to become agile. Agile methods help companies to increase their adaptability and flexibility. The work, responsibility and decision-making power is given back to the team. This increases the speed with which these companies can react. There are no long lines of command and control for the important operational and tactical decisions.

Now it is your turn!

This guide shows how we see the application of agile ways of thinking and working in the company. Now I would like to know from you: How far are you with agile methods? What are your experiences? What methods are you currently working with? Which questions do you have? Let me know and leave a comment.
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