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Five points to consider when considering agile best practices

There are benefits to following agile best practices throughout the project lifecycle, but when are they your organization's best bet? Learn how to get started.

Companies large and small follow agile best practices. The agile methodology can be a good way for a company to...

get projects up and running quickly and efficiently; furthermore, agile best practices emphasize project flexibility and allow for continuous improvement. Agile practices contrast starkly to the waterfall method, where requirements are gathered up front and a single, finished product is presented at the end.

Agile practices can succeed in your organization, but there are points you should consider when you're going full steam ahead. Here's our list of the top five things you need to know about agile best practices.

  1. Don't be afraid to fail. Agile projects are more iterative in nature than others, but that doesn't mean they will always be poised to succeed. One of the important keys to the agile approach is not being afraid to fail, according to Ross Pettit, client principal at Chicago-based ThoughtWorks Inc. If a company isn't willing to try and fail throughout a project's lifecycle, it may never be completed -- and the result will be failure on a larger scale.

    So, pick up the pieces and apply what you've learned to the next phase of the agile project.

  2. It is possible to forecast the end of agile projects. Many project managers new to agile best practices could be scared off by the thought of a seemingly endless project. Nevertheless, the endpoint of an agile project can be determined by its scope -- just as with any other project, according to Joseph Flahiff, a program manager with a national health insurance carrier. The difference is that with agile practices, the project team is regularly delivering, he said. However, "[w]hen you're done with the scope of work, you are done with the project."

  3. Agile best practices can combine waterfall and Scrum. Some projects lend themselves to one or the other (predictable projects may work best with waterfall, for instance), but in some cases, mixing the competing development methodologies may be beneficial. For example, some aspects of a project might be better suited to Scrum; for others the waterfall methodology could be a better fit.

    A word of caution for those looking to mix and match: Know your plans up front. A project can get derailed, for example, if one approach is used for the planning stage but there's a shift to include other best practices in the development stage. (Waterfall does not account for change or failures, whereas Scrum does.)

  4. Lean and agile go hand in hand. For the most successful project outcomes, no matter which methodology you choose to follow, it's important to cut out waste., For a project to be agile, it should be lean as well, according to Alex Keenan, an ERP analyst and agile project team member with a large grocery chain. Waste should be pinpointed during project planning and implementation and, with agile best practices, should be identified with every project iteration.

  5. An agile model is not a prescriptive approach. One common problem some organizations suffer when it comes to agile is believing that the method should be followed as if it was law. An agile model, however, takes a living, breathing approach to projects and does allow for quick changes and improvements -- hence the name, according to Elena Mitelman, principal with agile consulting firm SmartEdge LLC. Allow for some breathing room of your own when it comes to taking on agile best practices.

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One more best practice I would like to add to the list: "There are no best practices, there are only good practices". 
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Agile best practices can combine waterfall and scrum.  THose are processes!  Its entirely possible that these things may have application, but best practices? Nay.
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