Q&A: Achieving Agility & Why It Matters

We recently hosted a Facebook Live session featuring CuroGens’ CEO Jesper Kehlet, as well as our Scrum Master, Derrick Galster, to discuss the many benefits of incorporating agile principles, as defined in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, into any organization.

During the session, we addressed many valuable questions regarding the use of agile principles and specifically Scrum. Below, we have provided answers to these questions:


Q: Do you have to be operating off of a cloud ERP or software to be agile?

DG: No, you don’t have to be operating in the cloud to be agile. Being agile is more of a mindset. Within Scrum, you have an organized team—and the whole theory behind the way the team operates is that two heads are better than one. I might be able to make something great, but both of us together can make something amazing. Being agile really consists of incorporating principles or methodologies and frameworks that can be put into place, whether it’s in the cloud or on-premise.

JK: Quite frankly, one of the best ways to manage projects in the agile world is with a good old-fashioned whiteboard.

DG: Agreed.


Q: What are some of the immediate benefits of becoming an agile organization?

DG: Clients benefit from daily transparency into their project. They know where things stand, they’re receiving regular updates and they’re given ample opportunity to add their input. Because of this transparency, the team can quickly adapt to change. This is a huge benefit in today’s fast-paced environment.

JK: Derrick mentioned the ability to quickly adapt to change. We don’t want you to misunderstand that this is a way for us to become ‘chaos’ pilots. Yes, we have to navigate through chaos sometimes but being quick and adaptable doesn’t necessarily mean we should embrace more chaos. We should try to clean up the chaos by promptly correcting issues and being adaptive to each situation.


Q: What is the difference and similarity between agile and Scrum?

DG: Agile is just an umbrella of different techniques you can use. Scrum is a flavor of agile. You can also use Kanban, which involves a lot of moving of various development pieces—first in first out kind of thing. Lean can be incorporated, which is used to improve your processes at all times for efficiency. Scrum is very popular in software development, mainly because you can set a team loose to solve a problem that’s presented by the client. Most people have found that a self-organized team that is free to work on something allows for the best architecture, requirements and designs.

JK: You could say that Scrum is more of a methodology that works within the agile principles. They’re not necessarily complimentary but work with each other.

DG: Also, it seems like people knock Waterfall because it’s older and very document-and red tape-heavy but that is sometimes the best way to go with a simple project that doesn’t have a lot of unknowns. You need to work with the client to determine what agile methodologies best fit their needs.


Q: Is being agile for every organization or are there specific industries that should be focusing harder on being agile?

JK: I can’t think of an industry that wouldn’t benefit from adopting agile principles. There are many different ways that companies within various industries can do so. It is a paradigm shift though. With agile, you don’t necessarily get somebody to tell you what it’s going to cost between now and 18 months from now. You can set a specific budget, but you may have to live with a certain amount of uncertainty. The benefit is that you get a lot more innovation and actually get things to work the way that you want them to work.

I’ve seen companies like Saab in Sweden, which manufactures fighter jets and other equipment, embrace the agile principles and become a lot more innovative, quicker and leaner throughout their entire operation because of it. A very different type of company, Wells Fargo Bank, has also embraced agile but only in certain areas where it makes sense to do so. Some things in the banking world just need to be done the way they’ve always been done—particularly with regard to security because of very rigorous principles and restrictions there. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still benefit from adopting agile principles in the way they run their overall organization.


Q: Are there certain types of projects that are better for the agile process? Is it best to convert every project to an agile process or are there projects that align better with agile than others?

DG: It’s definitely true that there are projects that align better with agile. More simple, straightforward projects that don’t involve a lot of regulation or elements that need to be a certain way, would probably benefit from using Waterfall. But if you have a project that’s somewhat full of unknowns, you’re going to want to use agile. The whole purpose is to bring quick iterations so the team can excel at performing and self-organizing. There’s a consistency that emerges—you can filter out all the noise and chaos on a project. Scrum really shines in complex projects with lots of unknown variables and scope.


Q: Can we run Scrum without a Scrum Master?

DG: Like the Iron Triangle and the government, there are checks and balances built into Scrum. The Scrum Master serves as a product owner that owns what is being built. That product owner will work to get the most return on their investment.

I view a Scrum Master as a goalie that protects the team, so they can focus on getting the work done, in a timely but realistic manner. This individual also coaches the team and eliminates impediments so focus can stay on the work. The dev team has its specific role of doing all the hard lifting.  If you remove the Scrum Master from the picture, you’re going to lose efficiency.


Q: What are the risks in agile projects?

DG: Agile projects face the same type of risks that any project would, including scope creep, budget constraints, timeline issues and team dynamics.  Scope creep is common in software development. The best way to mitigate it is to have clear scope of the project or vision from the product owner.  Make sure that user stories (requirements) and acceptance criteria are clearly defined.  Make sure the product owner gets the stakeholders to sign off on the scope of the project and use change management techniques if something needs to change.  Also make it clear what phase is currently in the works, what may be future phases or versions once the MVP (minimum viable product) has been determined.  Your project manager should also monitor the project progress against the scope.  Again, in agile remember the measure of project progress is working software.

Timeline – the Scrum Master should be aware of resource constraints and scope within sprints.  Taking into consideration things like holidays and PTO.  Make sure staff is available to cover team members time off.  We do that here at CuroGens.

Budget – when planning the budget, take into consideration risks and what can be done to prevent them.  Scrum allows for transparency so the Scrum Master, project office and stakeholder should be well informed if everyone is doing their jobs.

Team dynamics – the Scrum Master can help the team work through issues with team members.  Communication is the key to any group working well together.  It is very important to me on my projects that everyone on the Scrum team has a voice and that equality exists for each member.  Everyone has specific skill sets and something to add.


Q: Is there a price tag on agility?

JK: Everyone seems to believe that if they know all the variables, map everything out and determine a budget, that’s what the budget is going to be. But we’ve seen time and time again, in multiple different companies and projects all over the world, that just because you match something out to a certain budget doesn’t mean that’s what it’s going to cost. It means that’s the cost for what you thought you needed.  Using an agile process has a price tag, sure, but you also know that within that price you actually got what you really wanted out of it. So yes, there is a price tag on agility but it’s not necessarily a steeper price tag than not using agile principles.


Q: As a manager or leader, what is the greatest challenge to maintaining agility?

JK:  It’s the challenge of not getting caught up in the chaos. You have to stay focused on the principles. Scrum and agile are not about anarchy, they’re about actually restoring the order in the anarchy. So, you’ve got to be careful about making sure that you’re still following the principles all the way through.


To view the original recording of CuroGens’ live event about agility, click here or access the recording on our YouTube Channel. Interested in learning more about our services? Contact us at learnmore@curogens.com for a free product demo, or for more in-depth answers to questions about becoming agile, contact Jesper Kehlet directly at askjesper@curogens.com.