The principles of the Agile Manifesto, originally applied to software development, have now spread widely to related fields including project management. Adapted for a variety of contexts including service innovation and sustainable design, it is proving to be very promising. With an emphasis upon continuous learning rather than continuos production, it is enabling collaboration and delivering results.
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
- Working software over comprehensive documentation,
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation,
- Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in terms of the items on the right, we value the items on the right more."
The agile approach to project development begins with the acknowledgement that the project's requirements and features are likely to change during the development phase. Once this has been understood, it no longer makes sense to adhere to a development timeline that is based upon a strict requirements list. Doing so would only lead to a delay in the delivery of the project or possibly to the failure of the project itself. In agile development, a commitment is made to resources and time in the first instance with an encouragement to test, trial, add and review requirements and features as the project progresses.
Although this might seem intuitively wrong, it does address the failure of the traditional approach which fixed requirements early, involved customers only at the beginning of the project and was unresponsive to contexts where change was likely. Agile development came about as a response to the heavyweight, documentation-dependent, software development processes that were hampering and often failing to support the introduction and commercialization of of new software systems.
Now, agile development can often be seen operating at the heart of innovative service and product design. A key strength of the agile approach to innovation comes from its emphasis upon the co-creation of value through sustained learning across organizational boundaries. Operating at the boundaries of organizations, innovative capacity often emerges when adjacent knowledge is made useful. The technique referred to as 'organizing for absorption' aptly captures the essence of this critical innovation capability.
Researchers Wesley Cohen and Daniel Levinthal (1) have provided a useful list of factors determining an organization's absorptive capacity:
- The individual gate-keepers and boundary-spanners who are at the interfaces between the organization and its external environment
- The individual gate-keepers and boundary-spanners who are at the interfaces between the organizational divisions and units
- Whether gate-keeping and boundary-spanning is centralized or distributed across the organization
- The background prior knowledge of individuals and of the organization's teams and units, and as a whole
- Interconnections between teams and units, allowing for some degree of redundancy
- An organization's investment in developing its own absorptive capacity (2) pg 213
An approach that was originally designed to improve the "big four" measures of productivity, quality, morale, and time to market in software design, is having an impact well beyond this field. With the pace of change accelerating across the breadth of the public and private sector, conventional approaches to project development are giving way to more responsive, dynamic and streamlined methods of design.