Process Improvement: The Agile Way!

Business needs for process improvement projects are changing. Organizations expect faster results from their process improvement investments; they want their improvement to follow changing business needs and be more engrained in the organization. The agile way of working, used more and more in software development, contains several mechanism that support such business needs. So the question is: Could process improvement also be performed in an agile way?

I managed my first software development project back in the nineties in a way that would now be called agile, to be able to meet the needs of my customer and of the organization. I set up and coached a team in developing software iteratively, at multiple locations. Each iteration was showed to our customer, who took it home and provided us with feedback. This approach turned out to be successful, and I have worked in similar ways in all of my projects and assignments.

So when I joined a global process improvement project, I suggested to use the agile principles and how we can melt them into a Scrum based approach for process improvement approach. Also this turned out to be a very effective and efficient way to work as a team, and to deliver results. It also helped us to deliver results quickly, and to get feedback and increase commitment, based upon our Golden Rules for Agile Process Improvement. It turned out to be flexible when things changed, e.g. when the company reorganized we managed and half of our steering group changed, we managed to re-prioritize the improvements and regain sponsorship of management within a couple of weeks.

In 2009 I presented “SPI, the Agile way!” at the SPIder conference. This presentation covered the agile approach in Software Process Improvement (SPI) projects. Now I’ve published a detailed paper which describes how I have applied experience from developing and delivering a product in iterations (which is nowadays called agile) into process improvement projects. Scrum was used a as method to iteratively deliver products and services for a process improvement project, where a wiki and telephone conferences were the main tools to manage the work and deliver results. The agile approach has shortened the lead time in our project, gave us a better understanding of what our customer needed, and increased the commitment for the changes that were needed in the organization. The team member appreciated this way of working since it helped them to continuously contribute value, and to develop their knowledge and skills. A set of golden rules helped the team to stay aware of the way we collaborated, and work in a disciplined and effective way.

The paper has been published in Methods and Tools, edition winter 2010. This online magazine provides practical and free knowledge on software development, quality assurance, project management and process improvement.  Happy reading!

(This blog was posted dec 20, 2010, and updated nov 20, 2012: Added info about Managing Change with Agile).

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.