Agile Workflow 101: What it is and How it Works

Product management is difficult. This job becomes even more complicated when product managers are asked to keep up with customer trends while following a concrete plan. 

This is where Agile project management comes in. Businesses that adopt Agile workflow bring increased flexibility to their product development process. Agile breaks down complex tasks and takes into account customer feedback that results in better products. In this fast-paced world, if you’re not implementing Agile methodology, you might get left behind.

It can be daunting to shift from traditional Waterfall to an Agile workflow – especially when you don’t have a clear idea of what Agile is. In this guide, I’ll define Agile workflow, discuss the types, and how to apply it to your business.

What is the Agile Workflow Process?

An Agile workflow is based upon Agile principles that break down complex tasks into short sprints. It allows businesses to create products faster and embrace change by developing minimum viable products (MVPs), getting customer feedback, and improving the product based on that feedback. Moving away from traditional processes an Agile workflow provides product managers with a flexible approach to project management. It allows Agile teams to respond to change, quickly adjust their strategy, and create tailored products for improved customer satisfaction.

What are the Types of Agile Workflow?

Contrary to popular belief, Agile isn’t a framework, but rather a philosophy. It encourages businesses to adapt to changing circumstances and continuously deliver valuable products to customers. This mindset embraces product owners to take on a more modern approach to product development.

Although the Agile Manifesto states the values and principles of Agile, it doesn’t provide a structure for businesses to follow. This paves the path for different Agile methodologies which businesses can apply to create an Agile workflow. Discovering the different types of Agile workflows will help you choose which one would best suit your business.

Scrum

Scrum is an iterative and incremental Agile workflow that empowers cross-functional teams to deliver products in the shortest time possible. Under Scrum, workflow development is managed in sprints lasting about two to three weeks.

During these sprints, Agile teams work together to develop specific features for a product. Then they make a minimum viable product for end-users to test. After testing, customer feedback is collected to adjust and refine the production process. This completes one sprint.

Sprints are repeated (i.e. iterated) and then incremented. This means the goal of the next sprint relies on the feedback gained from the previous sprint.

The process is repeated until a final product appears. This product is then officially released for customers to use.

To develop products that consistently satisfy customer demands, the Scrum Agile workflow consists of the following stages:

  • Scrum planning
  • Demo review
  • Sprint retrospective
  • Product backlog revision
  • Stand-ups

Feature Driven Development

Feature-driven development, or FDD, puts a larger emphasis on the creation of specific features than other Agile workflows.

FDD starts with mapping out a system model and identifies core features and feature areas to build upon. A product manager then prioritizes which features to work on. This process is repeated until all the features of the product are developed

This provides an innovative workflow by combining traditional planning with Agile principles. Businesses with traditional work culture may be hesitant to apply Agile workflows. FDD gives them a suitable middle ground and allows them to reap the benefits of the Agile workflow.

A product goes through the following stages under feature-driven development:

  • Developing an initial model
  • List out features
  • Feature planning
  • Feature designing
  • Feature building

Kanban

Kanban is a popular Agile development workflow based on lean production principles. Unlike other Agile methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban is a non-iterative process.

Under Kanban, the production cycles are arranged using Kanban boards which present what stage the product is going through. It is unstructured where workflows in a progressive fashion move from one stage of the production process to another.

Kanban helps in improving team collaboration, refining the backlog, and delivering high-quality products consistently. In Kanban, the Agile development workflow is broken down into the following steps:

  • Backlog
  • Analysis of requirements
  • Design
  • Build
  • Test
  • Release
  • Done

Crystal

Crystal is a lightweight Agile framework that takes in the context of the project and considers humans as the most valuable asset. This makes it a human-centric approach to product development.

The whole development process is based on the requirements of the project. Under Crystal, tools, roles, and processes aren’t pre-defined. The creation of the workflow depends on the technical/business requirements of the project.

Extreme Programming (XP)

Extreme programming is highly efficient for Agile project management. It relies on customer feedback to constantly create and develop effective software for end-users. Nowadays where technology is changing rapidly, XP offers specific practices for continuous improvement to increase customer satisfaction.

The XP Agile methodology consists of four main development phases:

  • Planning
  • Designing
  • Coding
  • Testing

Agile Unified Process

An Agile Unified Process or AUP is an iterative Agile workflow. It’s a simplified approach to Agile where teams collaborate towards a goal with a rational unified process in mind.

Under Agile unified process, the Agile teams take development through the following phases:

  • Inception
  • Elaboration
  • Construction
  • Transition

Although the Agile unified process can be applied as a simple Agile workflow, it’s rare. The development of AUP stopped in 2012 after the release of disciplined Agile delivery (DAD).

What’s the Difference Between Agile Workflow and Traditional Project Management?

Agile methodology provides a breakthrough in product management. It’s a modern approach to product management that integrates customer feedback to achieve customer satisfaction.

Despite the many advantages of Agile project management, many organizations are still fond of traditional project management techniques. The Waterfall model is considered the status quo in industry which is why businesses may be hesitant to shift to an Agile approach.

Here are some of the key differences between an Agile workflow and traditional project management:

Agile WorkflowTraditional Project Management
Adapts to change, and provides a flexible workflow that allows Agile teams to adjust their strategy to changing customer demands.Specific, predictable planning, not subject to change.
Work is done in iterative sprints where production is carried out in cycles by cross-functional teams.Work is carried out in stages where it does not go to the next stage before completion of the previous phase in a linear progression. This is known as the Waterfall approach.
Constant collaboration with stakeholders. It takes into account stakeholder requirements and involves customers at every stage of the production process.Work begins based on a contractual agreement with stakeholders. After negotiation, the development of the product begins until its official release.
User-focused development is tailored to customer needs for increased customer satisfaction.A product-focused approach where a product is created according to the plan and helps the business reach set objectives.

The main difference between Agile and traditional project management is the nature of how work is managed. In a traditional Waterfall approach, the production process goes through different phases where the next phase cannot start unless the product goes through the previous one.

This kind of planning is rigid and cannot take into account immediate changes in the product strategy. Agile workflows emerged as a solution to this problem. It enables continuous improvement and team collaboration to face the ever-changing business landscape and remain efficient despite rapidly changing customer trends.

What are the Components of the Agile Workflow Process?

Before implementing Agile workflow, you need to understand key components that drive the process. 

User Stories

A user story is a description of a specific feature written from the user’s perspective. These features add value to the product for the end-user and contain the needed information for Agile teams to develop the feature.

Sprints

Sprints are short work cycles where the development team reaches a set of goals within a given time frame. A sprint planning meeting is first set up for Agile teams to decide the responsibilities and tasks for the day. Then sprints are repeated until the team creates a finished product.

After completion, a sprint review is carried out to analyze the performance of the sprint. Teams see what’s working and what isn’t and adjust their strategy accordingly to enhance the effectiveness of the sprint.

Stand-ups

Part of the Agile Manifesto states, “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.” This is put into practice through daily stand-ups or daily scrum meetings.

A stand-up is a daily meeting that is arranged for all stakeholders to come together for at least ten minutes every day and discuss the project. Together they discuss new ideas, share strategies, and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Agile Boards

Some Agile methodologies like Kanban use boards to present stages of the production process. This keeps the team informed of their progress and what they’re expected to do next. The Kanban board typically depicts the backlog of tasks, current tasks, and finished tasks.

Product Backlog

The product backlog is by far the most crucial aspect of your Agile workflow. Backlogs contain all the tasks and ideas related to the project. Every backlog starts roughly, with a bunch of ideas collected from brainstorming sessions. Project managers are responsible for refining the product backlog by prioritizing features and adding changes through customer feedback.

Prioritized features move on to development through a series of sprints. A product backlog in an Agile workflow should be constantly updated, defined, and prioritized to keep things manageable.

How Can You Create Your Own Agile Workflow?

Once you understand the components that go into developing an Agile workflow, you can go ahead and create one for your own business. Creating an Agile workflow can be a difficult task so here are the exact steps you can take to start implementing Agile for your company.

Project Planning

Before starting development, you should discuss what you want to achieve with the project. Set an end goal that is valuable to the organization and worth achieving.

However, you should remember that an Agile framework adapts to change rather than avoiding it, so make sure your goal is broad and can handle changes in the process.

Have a Proper Understanding of Agile Values and Principles

When planning to adopt an Agile workflow, it’s essential to have full knowledge of the Agile principles. Anything that doesn’t adhere to these principles and contradicts Agile values cannot be considered Agile. This will nullify any chances you have of achieving success with an Agile workflow process.

Ensure everyone is on the same page by giving your team a rundown of Agile principles. 

Choose the Right Agile Framework

There are many types of Agile methodologies to choose from. What works for one business may not work for another. To choose the right framework for you, consider the context of your organization.

Scrum and Kanban are the most popular Agile frameworks. Both are a good starting point for anyone trying to implement Agile for their company.

Develop a Product Roadmap

A product management roadmap is a strategic plan for mapping out the direction of your product. An effective product roadmap will guide your team to successfully achieve business goals. Product managers are responsible for developing a product roadmap that maps out the process, defines the product backlog, prioritizes tasks, and provides Agile tools.

Release Planning

In a traditional Waterfall approach, release planning is not carefully considered. There is only one release date for when the final product is released.

However, in Agile project development, a new feature is released after every sprint. This calls for a more proactive approach to release planning. Before assigning Agile teams their roles, you’ll have to plan releases for the prioritized features.

Assign Sprint Teams

After the initial planning is complete, it’s time to form sprint teams that will be responsible for the development of feature areas. You’ll be defining the roles of each member. This may vary depending on the Agile methodology you choose to implement.

For example, in Scrum, there are three main roles defined in the Scrum Guide. Product owner, Developer, and Scrum Master. A sprint under Scrum Agile workflow will involve these three.

After defining the roles, you need to assign specific tasks. You’ll have to take into account the skills of each team member to assign them tasks that could be managed in a short time frame.

Sprint Planning

It’s important to plan before development starts. Before each sprint, stakeholders sit together and discuss what work is to be done and what strategy will be used to achieve the sprint goal. This increases team collaboration and transparency.

Conduct Daily Stand-ups

Daily stand-ups are conducted to assess the daily strategy of the sprint. Holding short stand-ups (around ten to fifteen minutes) will help adjust the plan for any changes and keep production going in the right direction.

Review Progress

After the completion of each sprint, it’s time to conduct a sprint review. In a sprint review, Agile teams present their progress and what they managed to achieve within the time frame to stakeholders. After the sprint review, team members can reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This will help with continuous improvement and enable them to better plan the next sprint.

Conclusion

In this article, we defined an Agile workflow and how to create an effective one for your organization. Agile project management has helped advance the field of project management by adopting a modern approach to product development.

Given how quickly customer tastes and trends change, most businesses will inevitably move on to an Agile workflow. It’s a well-needed alternative to the traditional Waterfall approach as it embraces the uncertainty of the ever-changing customer landscape. By following the steps and methods provided, you’ll be well on your way to implementing an efficient Agile workflow for your business.