What Agile Concepts Are Being Used Outside of Product Development?

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    What are some examples of Agile concepts being successfully used outside of IT/software product development? originally appeared on Quorathe knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

    Answer by Alex Cowan, Faculty at UVA Darden & Partner at Synapse, on Quora.

    What are some examples of Agile concepts being successfully used outside of IT/software product development? Good question. Most of the examples I know of are still related to digital in some way, though many are outside of the core software development process. If you look at the jobs of being in a software-related or software-adjacent business as something like this:

    Then I would say that agile is becoming very common in proposition design, product design, and general product/system support. Here are three specific areas/practices:

    1. Design Sprints: The Google Ventures people have recently popularized these and they have several examples where the core business wasn’t software development. In one sprint, they developed a new service design/merchandising strategy for Blue Bottle coffee. In another, they developed an interface for people who assess the relevance of available clinical trials for cancer patients.

    There’s so much to building a successful piece of software that is outside the process of actually writing code. I’m a big fan of using well validated practices like design thinking, Lean Startup, and various UX/HCD practices but I do organize them into a framework I call Venture Design:

    As you can see, most of this activity is outside actual coding. When I work with teams to execute this, we often use design sprints, a week long format where you do design research to make sure you’re solving a relevant problem for a real customer, a week long format where you test the value of your particular proposition for them (ala Lean Startup), a week where you assess the usability of alternative approaches to your interface(s), and a week where you look at architecture alternatives. Only one of these (the architecture sprint) has a lot of pre-existing work in the traditional agile domain. I’ll move on but for more on these see this tutorial Venture Design Sprints and/or this Coursera class Running Product Design sprints.

    2. ‘Growth Hacking’: As marketing/promotion becomes more about product integration, analytics, and things that general dovetail with software, those teams are increasingly using agile or agile derivatives. Here is Andrew Chen’s seminal article on growth hacking: Growth Hacker in the New VP Marketing.

    3. Devops and Continuous Delivery: This is basically the operations/systems/sysadmin/QA community’s answer to agile for their area. It deals with improving outcomes between dev., ops, and test through interdisciplinary collaboration and a few other emerging practices. Here are a few references you might like if you want to know more:

    1. Charity Majors’ post: ‘WTF is Operations?’. Very funny and interesting- relatively short.
    2. Coursera course: Testing with Agile. An initial introduction to continuous delivery in the context of the larger practice of agile.
    3. Site/book/course: Continuous Delivery via Jez Humble et al. Jez Humble does a lot of work, teaching and writing in the space.

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