In recent times, automating business processes has become more common. They are automated by formalizing them into workflows. Established enterprises use industry-standard workflow management systems to model, process, support, and monitor these workflows. Therefore, when there are more complex and dynamic processes and process environments, those demands are met by agile workflows.
The agility gives the necessary power to face the dynamic workflow environment. Enterprises shifting from classical workflow models to the agile process flow need time to adjust to the changes in modeling and execution in the run time. This adjusting procedure is crucial and needs to be fully automated and correct to be efficient in facing any unexpected events.
Globalization is increasing the competition around the world, and the market is becoming unstable simultaneously with the increase in client requirements. The demands from customers keep changing with the products. Over the last few years, enterprises have started to incorporate global systems and reinforce lean programs at minimal costs. But with the aggressive competition, companies are beginning to pay more attention to agility, quality, and speed to ensure that all the unique customer expectations are met.
But with the growing demand, implementing a workflow management system that can perform agile workflows can be a quite challenging task. Therefore, this comprehensive guide is there to help you get a complete idea of what agile workflow is, why you need it for business and how it can benefit you.
What is Agile Workflow?
The concept of the agile workflow process is reported from the 21st century; however, agile methodologies began to emerge in the mid-1990s. Agility helps a company to prosper in the dynamic and turbulent business environment. In doing so, enterprises will be ready to face challenging, unpredictable, and constantly changing environments. Some adverse situations might be visual enterprises, modular organizations, networking, reengineering, and employee empowerment. The agile approach will be the best adaptable solution to face these adversities effectively.
The agile workflow processes are not only flexible and responsive, but they also have the immense adaptive capability. Being agile means that all the information tools and the employees are integrated with the entire production system. The main aim of agile workflow processes does not stop with product manufacturing. Instead, it integrates employees as teams and involves them through each product development stage. In order to implement good agile workflow processing, companies need to comprehend what the customer needs exactly and what they will need in the future.
An agile workflow can be defined as “a response to the rigidity of the traditional project management approaches.” It comprises short sprints based on the end users’ feedback from delivering small tasks in each phase. This allows the teams to respond to quick changes as they occur.
Agile Project Management
Agile project management requires a solid behavioral change that affects how the organization thinks. In traditional project management, the project managers formulate a structured plan to avoid unnecessary changes. But in agile project management, several focal points are created to adapt to inevitable changes in the project quickly. These focal points are created to maintain consistency in innovation, product adaptability, quality, and on-time market availability with reliable results. This is why the agile approach may not be suitable for any work environment.
The agile manifesto published in 2001 and compiled by seventeen independent-minded software practitioners laid the foundation for the agile project management that we know today.
The four foundation principles include:
(a) Valuing individuals and interactions over tools and processes
(b) Valuing software more over comprehensive documentation
(c) Valuing customer alliance over contract negotiation
(d) Valuing changes over following the structured plan
Twelve founding principles of agile project management need to be followed:
- The highest priority of adopting an agile workflow process is the continuous delivery of products to the customers as per their expectations.
- The agile workflow processes will harness changes even at later stages of product development to maintain a competitive customer edge.
- It gives preference to short timescales but delivers frequent product updates, even from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
- Developers and stakeholders work as a team together throughout product development.
- In an agile project environment, the developers must get what they need regarding resources, support, and trust. It is important to develop the product around motivated people.
- In general, a face-to-face conversation is preferred to share information with and from the development team for maximum efficiency.
- The project’s progress is measured in terms of the working software/product level.
- Agile workflow environments promote sustainability. You will have sustainable development among sponsors, developers, and users, and it is easier to measure consistency over a long period of time.
- Agility can be improved by excellent product design and technical excellence.
- Simplicity is a crucial factor in maximizing effort and is essential.
- An agile workflow process environment promotes self-organizing teams, which can lead to the development of the best architectures, designs, and requirements.
- Since there is agility, the team can respond to sudden events and be more effective as they tune themselves to the changes at regular intervals.
Moreover, with agile project management, you can guarantee a continuous flow of value as it increases return on investment. You will get the desired results which are customer engagement and shared ownership. Your team will expect uncertainty and manages it through iterations and adaptations. Working in an agile environment can unleash your team’s creativity and innovation, making a significant difference in the product. Overall, you can improve your effectiveness and reliability and boost performance through group accountability and specific strategies that facilitate success in the long run.
Roles in an Agile Project Management
An agile workflow environment is quite different from a traditional waterfall approach. In every project, people are the key elements of development, and each has its own projects. Since agile project management embraces agility, it is essential for project teams to create a specialized task force designated to be in the Agile team. These are stimulated and composed with the following roles:
Product owner – The person assigned in this role acts as an intermediary between the client and the development team. They are regarded as the experts of the team and a representative of the customer’s needs. They work closely with the development team and other outsourcing companies and update them regarding customer needs daily.
Team leader – A person who gets the role of a team leader is responsible for guiding and supporting the development team by dealing with external problems so the team can better stay focused.
Team members – These are the people behind the development team. The development team comprises self-organizing and cross-functional teams within it. They all continuously work together in multiple ways for the success of the project.
Stakeholders – These are people who stay in the external part of the organization – they are the potential customers, partners, vendors, regulation organizations, etc. These people have an indirect influence over the product and share their feedback and assistance with the agile team.
Support – People in this role have an important job in providing the necessary technical and other support to the customers once the product is launched.
Variants of Agile Workflow Processes
Agile project management follows a conceptual framework approach. There are a lot of combinations and one or more phases that are recently developed for better planning and development. Sometimes, enterprises use these in combination with one another. Some of the agile workflow process variants include: Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, eXtreme Programming (XP), Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method, Feature Driven Development, and Adaptive Software Development have been developed for rapid iterations and flexibility. Let’s take a look at some of the emergents.
The scrum methodology is one of the most commonly used forms of the agile workflow process. It is fast, flexible, and easily adaptable. Though it values experimentation, scrum can be a little structured. In a scrum, the activities are completed in fixed timeframes known as sprints.
Each sprint accounts for several iterations and can last up to two to four weeks. Each team focuses on completing its individual tasks from the product backlog. The main goal is to assign each team member specific tasks and work towards arriving at a single piece of deliverable product.
Scrum depends on a set of roles with specific responsibilities – scrum master, scrum team, and product owner. Each sprint will hold several meetings at different stages of the product life cycle – sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint retrospective, sprint review, and much more.
Compared to scrum, kanban is a more relaxed one. Kanban is fluid. Unline scrum, kanban does not assign specific roles and responsibilities. There are no time limits or specific work items to do. But, kanban monitors the amount of time in terms of work in progress (WIP). This provides a smooth continuous flow of tasks and reveals any bottlenecks.
Ultimately, kanban aims to simply drive continuous improvement as the workflows become more efficient. The time taken to deliver the product is reduced from start to finish.
This is a hybrid methodology that combines the rigidity of scrum and fluidity of kanban. Scrum teams are replaced with the WIP limits to promote fluidity, and the kanban teams are replaced with the daily holdings of scrum meetings to incorporate structural rigidity and ensure that people stay on the same page.
Scrumban is best suited for creative or development projects with shifting priorities. Those who use scrum but are unable to meet deadlines can switch to Scrumban.
eXtreme Programming (XP)
eXtreme Programming (XP) is an agile methodology that is aimed at providing high-quality software and high-quality development teams. XP lies on a more engineering side of software development.
XP is not the most preferred form of agile variants and is only used in specific cases. The general characteristics of XP include: 1. When there is a dynamically shifting software requirements scenarios in the project. 2. Use of new technologies to resolve risks within a fixed project timeline. 3. When only a small development team is involved 4. When the technology used enables automation and functional tests.
Crystal is the lightweight, agile methodology that you can adopt, focusing on the members and their interactions. It’s a color-coded variant that works based on optimizing the workflows and using dynamic methods—designed by a scientist named Alistair Cockburn at IBM. it is human-powered and has adaptive approaches which doesn’t require much documentation.
Crystal agile workflow processes are more suitable when there is a need for frequent delivery, reflective improvement, osmotic communication, ensuring personal safety, immense focus, and technical tooling.
Crystal agile generally uses prescribed developmental approaches, which vary with the needs of a project. The crystal agile consist of crystal yellow, crystal red, crystal sapphire, crystal diamond, crystal orange web, and crystal clear variants. This is the unique feature of a crystal agile workflow, known as weights and distinguished based on the spectrum. Each of these variants is used based on the number of members of the product development team.
Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
The Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) is an agile variant that is generally used for building and maintaining framework systems. The DSDM approach works based on iterations and follows a keeper strategy. The DSDM lifecycle will have three unvarying cycles followed by two other different life cycle activities. The approach comprises feasibility and business study, functional model iterations, and design and implementation of iterations. DSDM is generally used along with XP as a mixed approach to generate solid functional products.
Feature Driven Development (FDD)
As the name suggests is used for organizing software development features as the development progresses.
The lifecycle of FDD comprises:
1. Ideating the overall model
2. Listing out the features
3. Planning by features
4. Designing by the features
5. Building by the features.
Though it is a rapid development approach, it is not efficient for smaller projects. It has a customer-centric approach with pre-defined development standards but less documentation which leads to confusion among the developers.
Adaptive Software Development (ASD)
ASD, as the name suggests, is an agile approach that is aimed to enable the teams to swiftly and efficiently adapt to the dynamic workflow environment. It is a lightweight approach and enables the team to continuous learning and improvement. It is a viable agile method that you can use if there is a feasibility for deep involvement from the users and developers. Though it is intuitive, it demands extensive user involvement, which is quite challenging.
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The philosophy of the agile lifecycle is the existence of non-hierarchical work distribution. While it has product owners and team members, all of them are equally accountable, and all ideas are treated equally in decision-making. It has strong odds against the traditional waterfall approach, but a strong team leader is a must in an agile workflow environment.
The agile lifecycle typically consists of six phases, and they vary slightly based on the project methodology variant that the organization uses. The core of the agile workflow process lifecycle lies in experimentation and adaptability. Agile workflow processes are cyclic and are often evolving, so it overlaps with each other frequently.
The six phases are conception, inception, construction, release, production, and retirement. Let’s see each of these phases in detail.
The first phase is conception. The product owner will formulate the project’s scope and what needs to be achieved. If there are several projects at once, they will prioritize accordingly. The product owner discusses the details of the project and its key requirements with the client. Then they provide a document containing all the key information, an outline of the project, expected features, timeframe, and proposed end results.
In the conception stage, it is advisable to keep the requirements at a minimum as they can be added at later stages. Also, the product owner also discusses and estimates the time and budget for other potential projects. The detailed analysis in the conception stage will give the roadmap and help decide the team decide if the project is feasible or not before commencing.
Now the team has outlined the overall concept. Now, it’s time for the development team to start building the software/product. The product owner will now check the availability of necessary team members. They will handpick their best members and gives them the necessary tools and resources.
The development team starts to build the product. Different teams work together and create a mock-up of the user interface and build the project architecture. In the inception stage, the stakeholders will be briefed on the project’s requirements, functionalities, and possible outcomes. This is done periodically to keep regular check-ins on the product’s development stages. Also, this helps to face any sudden changes so the team can adapt quickly.
This is the iteration phase, and this is the longest phase of all. The development team works with the UI/UX team combining all product requirements and feedback from the customers into design codes. The product should have the minimum functionality at the end of the first sprint. Additional features and updates are done in the later iterations. The iteration phase is the cornerstone of the agile workflow process. It helps developers to design the product quickly and make changes to satisfy the customers.
In the release phase, the product is almost ready. This is another crucial phase where the quality assurance team runs tests. They check for functionality errors, bugs, and any other issues and make sure that the product works just fine. The main motive is to ensure that the code is clean. If errors or bugs are detected, they will quickly call the developers to fix the issue.
Moreover, documentation is done on the user training. This is essential for future developments. When all this is complete, the product’s final iteration is done and moved on to the production phase.
This phase can also be called the maintenance phase, where the fully developed product is made available to the customers. Now, any issues customers face while using the product are resolved swiftly. The development team will provide extended support to keep the product working smoothly and quickly take care of any new bugs. They will also be available to provide additional support to the customers when they get stuck anywhere while using it. Also, any new iterations and additional features can also be updated here.
The product will enter into the retirement phase if it is being replaced with a new one or if the product has become incompatible over time. In this case, a product entering this phase will be notified to the development team. Simultaneously, customers will also be notified prior to the software/product getting retired. The customer will soon be migrated to a new system, and the development team will take care of the remaining end-of-life activities.
Each phase of an agile process flow has numerous iterations, and the deliverables get refined in each phase to achieve the best results. Simply when an organization adopts an agile methodology doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed.
You need to understand that agile is not a manager. Agile helps to manage projects and not people. So, the success of the product lies in the hands of the product owners. They are responsible for prioritizing tasks, managing backlogs, setting timelines, and assigning tasks accordingly. Moreover, working within a structured timetable is not possible for agile as they have planned sprint sessions. Agile is not a babysitter, nor is an iterative project manager. The ownership and responsibility lie with the team, and the methodology simply helps you to achieve your goals in iterations.
Momentum in Agile Workflow Environment
There are several moments of momentum in an agile project environment. Any project management is divided into several phases for the teams to have a clear vision of the end goal. If the company goes for the agile principles, even if the project is divided into several phases, all of those phases have to be processed simultaneously. A systematic, planned approach is not possible in agile project management.
There are five momentums in an agile process flow environment. They are:
Obligations: This is the first one where tasks, goals, and objectives related to the project are defined by how the customer expects.
Groundwork: This is the planning momentum where the agile team created is provided with specific tasks. Timelines are discussed, and initial requirements are formulated.
Design: Here, momentum is created when the agile team closely works with others as per the requirements and updates regularly regarding the progress.
Development: Iin this momentum, the agile team negotiates with the supporting teams, runs quality tests, documents product development, and releases iterations as it goes into final production.
Maintenance: The developed product is delivered to the customer in this momentum. Following this, after-sale service and technical support are provided as and when required. The most crucial part is customer feedback which we need for continuous growth.
Advantages of Agile Workflow Process
* You can simply make many changes in an agile environment, and it encourages the highest change in order concerning product value to the customer.
* An agile workflow environment allows you to accommodate as many end goals even if it is not clearly defined initially.
* A key advantage of adopting an agile workflow process is breaking down the complicated workflow stages into more manageable components and delivering high-quality products faster.
* To avoid roadblocks, an agile workflow environment enables open communication and daily standup meetings on project status.
* At the end of each sprint, live demonstrations are conducted to get immediate responses from both customers and stakeholders.
* The agile workflow process enables team leaders to accurately estimate time and budget for the project by enabling thorough emphasis on adaptability and rapid feedback.
Challenges in Implementing Agile Principles
There are two sides to a coin. Even if agile has several advantages, it equally comes with challenges.
- As said earlier, agile is not suitable for all companies. Therefore, many companies fail to analyze their company data in terms of internal and external information, competition, and customers before choosing agile.
- Information is the strength of the organization. In an agile project environment, sometimes, some communication with team members and external colleagues can be overlooked, which needs continuous monitoring.
- Since agile workflows are flexible, timelines can be extended, and deadlines can be delayed multiple times.
- The cross-functionality of the agile workflow process can need some time for the teams to get used to the collaboration and commitment throughout the project duration.
- Needs extensive documentation and team planning as sometimes it becomes difficult during the audits and external checks.
Manage Your Agility with Cflow
Now you have a clear idea of agile workflows, the question arises, how do I select the right tool? Since the early 2000s, the agile workflow process has been gaining widespread attention in the area of managing software development. The rising popularity of agile gave rise to numerous tools in the market. As a result, settling for the best tool for your organization can be challenging.
From simple workflow management to project planning to automate complex resource workflows to portfolio management, Cflow is the best in business. Cflow’s agility can be seen in its collaborative environment and increased velocity, which empowers you to do more as a team.
With Cflow, you can easily design, develop and deploy on work from anywhere. The time visibility, automated workflows, reports, and well-built dashboards keep your team informed and connected. You can be dynamic and achieve more with Cflow.
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