Agile and Innovation06 Jun 2017

According to recent research Agile can help innovation greatly, the idea has as many opponents as fans. Why the sharp split of opinion?

Agile Innovation

Pros of using Agile for innovation:

  • Time pressure as motivation
    Sometimes the very pressure of having to come up with something, whether it's an idea or a plan, at the end of a given time-frame - this pressure alone can stimulate new ideas. Good or bad - they can all lead to new solutions and show a new angle to a problem.
  • Customer take on how to innovate
    Being able and encouraged to involve the customer in the process adds the customer's ideas of how their product can evolve into the equation - potentially eliminating the bad ideas right away.
  • Asking questions to get more insight
    Transparency and daily sprint meetings can fuel questioning of the items you progress - thanks to the fact that using Agile methods allows for the entire team to know what everyone else is working on, and to briefly discuss it every morning. People get a chance to re-think the work plan and potentially question why things are being done. In other words, instead of having an idea validated by the manager only - everyone can have their say and possibly influence what is being built.

Cons of using Agile for innovation:

  • Software development & innovation issues
    Many argue that innovation in software development is always going to be difficult, regardless of how you approach it. That is for the very reason that the most applied ideas is software development are fed by conformism - answering the question "what will most people appreciate?" and not by pure innovation. Looking at it this way, one might say it makes no difference what method you use, innovation in software development cannot be planned for nor engineered.
  • Agile indulgence
    Real innovation is very hard and not many people can do it. Some will always confuse innovation with indulgence in wanting to have their idea placed in the product and this is, arguably, a lot easier to get done when using Agile methods. It's dangerous and does not lead the product anywhere new.
  • Is improvement always an innovation
    There will be many an executive wanting to make it seem as though making a product better, cheaper or more efficient is being innovative. And yes, in some cases, getting the specs spruced up WILL be a result of a new innovative technology, but most of the times it won't. Don't be fooled by this mistaken approach - doing something a bit better is not necessarily the same as being innovative about it.

It would seem then, that whether Agile Innovation is a working concept or not depends greatly on the very implementation, on a specific use case and the people involved. It can be of great help to some while remaining a vague and unreachable idea to others. Consider if your organization is ready for it or not.

Some ways to make Agile support innovation better:

  • Demand new ideas from all team members at a cyclic, given time.
  • Re-prioritise the backlog items as often as possible - easily done when using a shared, online task management tool, like Kanban Tool.
  • Focus on making the team work a real common effort, as opposed to just a number of people working separately in the same room - a clash of ideas is always beneficial over a one person idea about a problem or issue.

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