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DCE Magazine

Creating an Agile Future

Winter 2021

More businesses and industries are embracing this innovative management methodology, born in Silicon Valley.

Agile project management revolutionized the tech industry in the ‘90s, helping to propel titans in software development such as Apple, IBM, and Microsoft, transforming the world in the process. Now it’s doing the same for a wide range of companies such as John Deere, National Public Radio, and even Mission Bell Winery.

This popular and innovative management methodology is more in-demand than ever, a proven tool for navigating an ever-changing business landscape with small, self-managed teams dedicated to finding creative solutions for each project.

The idea is to transition from traditional process-driven culture to a flexible, customer and value-driven approach that increases production, profits, and customer satisfaction. Its growth has created a booming job market for Agile-trained professionals, accelerated by challenges posed by the COVID pandemic, said Lori English Garcia, instructor for the Division of Continuing Education (DCE) Agile Project Management certificate program.

“Agile is the hot trend today and growing at a rapid pace,” she said. “Agile is actually a mindset and leverages quicker ways of bringing incremental innovations, new products, and services to the market, including the project management skills to oversee the effort. By using Agile, companies can cater to the changing needs of their customers and provide continuous improvement along the way.”

The Agile Manifesto lays out the basic principles that guide the philosophy and process. Created in the early days of Agile software development, it mandates a focus on individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan.

“With Agile, the main skills you need to have are communication, flexibility, sound judgment under pressure, and problem-solving,” Garcia said. “I would say another one of the key skills is providing motivation and recognition to your team throughout the projects.”

Agile’s success has been phenomenal in embracing change in an increasingly disruptive climate. In recent years, Agile has branched out from its Silicon Valley origins to non-tech companies that incorporate it into many aspects of their business operations.

“I’ve read about Agile being incorporated into the travel industry, food industry, along with museums and wineries,” Garcia said. “I would say it’s mainly useful for software developers and project managers, although with its expansion, we’re seeing management and onsite workers utilizing Agile and its mindset in all these industries as well.”

Becoming Agile

Harvard Business Review offered a succinct summation of Agile leadership: Rather than give orders to be carried out, Agile leaders guide teams with questions like “What do you recommend?” and “How could we test that?”

Teams tackle projects with flexible, innovative exercises, most notably Scrum, which emphasizes creativity in solving complex problems. Small teams of usually no more than nine people or so are assigned a project to work on full-time. Scrum teams are self-managed and led by one member who is ultimately responsible for the outcome.

Agile also employs Lean methodology to eliminate wasteful practices, and Extreme Programming (XP) is aimed at increasing customer satisfaction and teamwork. Kanban is a useful scheduling tool that helps determine what products to produce and when.

Mastering the Agile mindset can provide a major career boost for candidates looking to advance in their company or set off on an entirely new path — and the DCE Agile Project Management certificate program is a perfect entry point for aspiring professionals.

The program is designed for anyone looking to expand their Agile skillset to optimize business performance in a range of industries. An Agile Project Management certificate represents the next career step for project and program managers, team members, and those with Project Management Professional certification.

“The Agile Project Management certificate program covers the essential concepts and processes to implement key areas of Agile,” Garcia said. “By taking these courses, students will have the methods and techniques to apply Agile practices for producing high-quality products, solutions, and services for industries they work in. Experienced Agile professionals are in high demand across all industries.”

Demand for Agile is accelerating, attracting a growing number of candidates who want to take their career to the next level, she added. “More and more job openings will continue to be posted. I personally wouldn’t want to be left behind without the certifications and learning required to enter this Agile methodology space.”

A 21st-century movement

Although Agile has been around since the ‘90s, it’s just now coming into its own, perfectly suited for today’s fast-evolving business world. Sudden challenges such as the pandemic shutdown only accelerate demand for Agile, Garcia said.

“Since the majority of organizations have recently seen revenue decreases, they are looking for ways to streamline their processes and cut costs. The need for organizational speed has never been greater, so it’s imperative they bring their products and services to market at a faster pace, not only to outperform competitors but sometimes as a survival mechanism.”

Companies that had embraced Agile prior to the pandemic are in a much stronger position today, she added, with many releasing products and services at up to twice the rate compared to their competitors.

“I see Agile still in its baby stages. Although it has been around for years, many companies are just now realizing the benefits and bringing the Agile methodology into their organizations. There is still a lot of room for it to grow.”

Popular Agile software tools such as Smartsheet and JIRA are continually being updated and introduced, driving innovation in collaboration, scheduling, and results-tracking, powering the evolution of this relatively nascent movement.

“I personally use Smartsheet quite a bit,” Garcia said. “There are so many advanced technology tools out there; it’s a personal or company preference for selection. Some examples include tools for real-time collaboration, estimating and reporting for development cycles, and management of work. It’ll be fun to see even more technologies come our way.”

Learn more about the Agile Project Management program.