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What is Agile?

By Barry Blitch, PBS Interactive

Agility—it's not just for the dogs
You’ve probably heard the “agile” buzzword tossed around in the digital sphere and can reasonably guess the general meaning. However, like “synergy”, it may still be a bit fuzzy. To find its origins, let’s travel far back to 2001, when the Agile Manifesto was created by a group of smart developers. These founding fathers summarized their fundamental beliefs as:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan 

In this way agile is a framework and approach more than a prescriptive work regimen. Every team implements agile differently. To find out how agile works at PBS Interactive, I spoke to Julie Moore, Director, Product Management-PBS Interactive.

The team starts with a backlog of tasks that are broken down into manageable parts and assigned “story points” based on complexity and the amount of time to complete. A planning meeting is held every two weeks in which members ask questions to determine their next mini-project. In this way agile allows for empowerment of the team, Julie says.

The chosen mini-project is the group’s focus for the next two-week “sprint”, or iteration. During the sprint, the team has daily “stand-up” meetings, meant to serve as a quick check-in. At the end, a retrospective is conducted to determine what worked and what didn’t. Because agile emphasizes demoing and testing every step of the way, the benefits and drawbacks are easier to pinpoint.

To Julie, agile is all about being flexible, trying new things, and not letting perfection get in the way. Because things turn on a dime, it’s important to take baby steps with projects so the team can pivot and change directions quickly. Once a product or method proves truly useful, more time and energy can be invested.

This doesn’t just apply to product development—stations can implement an agile mindset as well. Julie recommends “conducting small experiments” around a project. Often, stakeholders can’t define a desired result, but can easily provide feedback when presented with a semi-working prototype. Ultimately, Julie emphasizes, “don’t be afraid to fail.” Taking on a project in short bursts ensures that you aren’t wagering too much, but will eventually get a great return.

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