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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Agile Workflow

How to build a smooth Agile workflow for your team

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Not all people are naturally good at planning and estimating. This is not a big tragedy as no matter how much practice you get there’s always something that can’t be accounted for.

Any project, be it software development, a marketing campaign, or a sales strategy, the extra scope may appear or requirements may change. Especially if the project is large and complex. This either needs to be disregarded, or wedged into a tight plan (that will probably throw the plan into disarray). But the right decision is to embrace the uncertainty and build it into your process.

Agile project management practices help us to be adaptable and ensure the team is always working on something important. Agile helps us to break down a large project into smaller tasks and prioritize them. Nowadays people are evangelical about Agile and many of them are rigid in their adherence to the framework. They try to teach their teams to have a smooth Agile workflow without the restraint of an established framework.

Workflow management

What Is an Agile Workflow?

Agile workflow is a response to the rigidity of the traditional project management methodology. It works in short sprints and continuously delivers small tasks with getting feedback on that work from end-users. This allows Agile teams to respond quickly as changes occur.

What is the difference between the traditional and Agile project workflows?

In a traditional way, any kind of work is managed in a linear and sequential way and includes particular steps. No phase begins unless the previous step is completed. This is what we know as the Waterfall model in project management.

However, when changes of requirements or a new request emerge, the challenges begin. If you want to know more about this, dive into the topic of Scope Creep in traditional project management. In quick explanation, this is when teams have to go through lengthy change control processes in order to fulfill the customers’ requests. This may lead to enormous project delays and high costs.

Projects may require changes because we rarely know the result from the beginning. Agile creates a project management workflow with the focus on continuously delivering small pieces of work to clients and receiving their quick feedback. This allows Agile teams to adapt to emerging changes that inevitably occur in most modern projects.

Additionally, the process of Agile workflow outlines the increased visibility in the way work is performed (that leads to spotting challenges early and fixing them in timely).

Agile and traditional work flows

Agile Flow Process Breakdown

The work flow process in the Agile methodology largely looks the same no matter what kind of project you have. However, software development is the most popular field of the framework application, so here we will describe the Agile software development work flow process.

Here’s a brief introduction to Agile development workflow.

  1. Conception – the first stage where a project is initiated and planned by experts. Key goals and tasks are also being planned during this phase. It is also devoted to developing a product backlog and planning sprints.
  2. Inception – time to gather in a sprint team and assign team players to their respective sprints. What you need here is to complete the tasks in the sprints.
  3. Iteration – one more important stage of the Agile development cycle when the team starts working on sprints and related to product backlog items.
  4. Release – time to make sure that the product will be delivered to the customer as soon as possible. You receive feedback and incorporate it with rigorous testing before moving onto your next sprint.
  5. Retirement – a final phase meaning that all work on the project is done. The project manager stops all workflow activities.

What is the Sprint development cycle?

The software development cycle described above highlights the process as a whole. Agile teams know that it is also important to break down the workflow for every single sprint.

How to break down the Agile development workflow for every sprint? Here’s the list of consistent steps:

  • You have to determine the deliverables for each sprint based on the product backlog.
  • At this stage, you need to design and develop your backlog items.
  • Now it is time to test all backlog items and document the progress.
  • Delivery. The stage devoted to delivering your backlog items to clients for the final stage of testing.
  • Feedback. The final step when you should document feedback from your customers and stakeholders.

Different Types of Agile Workflow

Agile methodologies

There cannot be an ideal workflow approach for all projects. Below we list the popular Agile workflow models, where Scrum and Kanban look like the most widely used.

Each of the listed Agile workflow processes has its own set of pros and cons. So here they are:

Scrum

Let’s give Scrum the leading role in the Agile workflow processes family in terms of popularity. Its workflow is based on a repetitive approach. The method emphasizes continual improvement for customer satisfaction and its workflow includes:

  • Product backlog
  • Planning sprint
  • Sprint backlog
  • Sprint itself
  • Scrum Meetings
  • Sprint Reviews

Kanban

Kanban that is based on the Lean development process, is also extremely popular in the Agile world. The model is non-iterative and is less structured. Kanban emphasizes delivering quality on a continual basis by effective team collaboration. The workflow in Kanban looks like the set of the following stages:

XP

XP is Extreme Programming – one of the most reliable workflow models in Agile that focuses on continual improvement through customer feedback. XP projects workflow consists of four phases:

  • Coding
  • Testing
  • Listening
  • Designing

FDD

FDD means Feature Driven Development. This is an iterative workflow model for system development, primarily focusing on features. FDD comes up with high-end features and scope to allow developing the entire model and execute the same.

  • Feature Driven Development includes such stages as:
  • Developing the entire model
  • Developing the listed features
  • Feature planning
  • Feature designing
  • Feature building

Crystal

This Agile workflow process represents a set of various software methodologies.  Crystal is a human-centric model that considers people as the most important asset in system development. All the processes to meet the client requirements follow then.

The process of this model does not pre-define the methods or tools at the start of the project. It is defined based on the business and technical requisites of your project.

AUP

AUP means Agile Unified Process and it represents an iterative and progressive method consisting of four steps:

  • Inception
  • Elaboration
  • Construction
  • Transition

Altern

Another Agile method that has been prevailing for the longest time is also used in non-IT areas.

According to this approach, the project benefits and requirements are pre-defined clearly before the actual execution. The Altern workflow consists of such steps as:

  • Pre-project
  • Feasibility
  • Foundations
  • Exploration
  • Engineering
  • Deployment
  • Post Project

Value stream mapping for setting the foundations of an Agile flow

Value stream mapping (or Agile process mapping) is a process of visualizing a product development cycle from beginning to end. This Lean management process allows displaying all stages of the work process and the team’s assignments.

The goal of Value stream mapping is to provide value to customers constantly. Due to the mapping, you will be able to recognize the value-adding activities in your work process and the activities that generate waste. This overview will help you to remove the wasteful elements of your processes, making the workflow more efficient.

How to create an Agile workflow?

Creating a workflow in the Agile development reality includes four simple steps:

Stage of forming

Hopefully, by this stage, your team totally understands Agile principles and can adopt the right practices of the methodology. Both principles and practices will help team members to adapt to the new workflow.

Three fundamental things should be taken into consideration in this stage: implementing the Agile roles, understanding Agile events and ceremonies, and compassionating different Agile principles.

Stage of storming

This stage marks the start of working with the product backlog and dividing the backlog items into sprints. You have to involve your team members in the sprint planning process as they’ll execute it.

Stage of forming

Now it is time to define the team roles. Assign different team members to different sprints and communicate their responsibilities for every sprint.

Classical Agile projects require the following roles:

  • A Product Owner: communication with clients and relaying their feedback to the team.
  • A project manager: receiving the information from the PO and leading the team.
  • A project team: actually working on the project.
  • Stakeholders: are not actively involved in working on a project but have valuable inputs.

The main idea is to build a team that will follow the method you’re using.

Stage of performing

This phase requires applying the principles of the Agile Manifest. Performing is aimed at continuous improvement over your development activities. Conducting daily standups will help you to keep a check on any developments.

After completing of work with the customer feedback, you can arrange a sprint review meeting before moving on to the next sprint.

project work flow

On the Way to Workflow Optimization

Once you are ready to customize your Agile process flow, do not forget to create statuses for all types of work in a team’s process. From the ideation to code review, and testing  -these stages are completely different in terms of functionality and can have individual statuses. These statuses should clearly communicate what phase a particular kind of work is in.

When creating an Agile workflow, pay attention to the metrics important to report on as well as what non-team members can be interested in learning.

For example, a thoroughly optimized Agile workflow answers the following questions:

  • What pieces of work have the team members completed?
  • What is the state of the work backlog?
  • What number of items does every status contain?
  • How long does it take to complete an average task?
  • Does the team face any bottlenecks that slow it down?
  • Did we have work items that didn’t pass the quality standards the first time?

Then, your efforts about optimizing the Agile process flow should focus on ensuring a steady stream of work through the workflow.

Limiting work in progress visualizes a minimum and maximum number of issues in a certain state of the flow. WIP limits guarantees that each state has enough work to keep team members fully utilized. Setting work in progress limits will demonstrate which processes slows overall work through the pipeline.

Scaling an Agile flow and possible challenges

There are companies that include several Agile teams. They often face challenges with workflows because their teams want to optimize the Agile development workflow to reflect their unique culture and own processes.

Different teams that use different processes while performing the same project are not always a success, but a headache for top management.

However, Agile teams that work together should benefit from sharing the same flow. The same Agile process workflow will help to make transitioning work between teams easier as people will use the same conventions for delivering work.

Here you will definitely need some give and take from both teams but the outcome will delight you.

How to analyze your Agile workflow efficiency

Agile project management can not be possible without frequent feedback.

Feedback can be received during special meetings where team members analyze the process and discuss possible improvements. You should discuss everything that has happened on our Agile board since the last meeting and measure all work processes’ efficiency with powerful and handy Agile workflow diagrams and charts.

It is important to select appropriate tools to measure the stability of your product/service delivery process and take preventive but not corrective actions when it is necessary. This approach will help you to optimize your Agile work flow and deliver the best solutions to your customers.

Conclusion

Implementing an Agile process workflow does not have to be challenging! Believe us, there are processes that are much harder and more difficult to perform.

Creating an Agile workflow ensures successful project delivery to the market. In order to build a smooth flow, map your existing processes and then try to continuously improve them.

If creating a workflow seems quite daunting at first, just follow everything that we’ve described above in this article and you will win in the quest to make the ideal product using Agile as your guide and reference point.