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Applying Agile Outside of Projects: The Versatility of Agile
By Mustafa Gulzar

April 22, 2024 | 10 min read

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Written by

Mustafa Gulzar

Full Stack Developer

Mustafa is a full stack developer with a degree in Computer Science from King's College London. He is experienced in managing CI/CD transformation projects and complex microservices architectures with a focus on scalability and robustness in cloud deployments. His technical repertoire is extensive, encompassing Python, Docker, JavaScript, Java, Scala and many more. Mustafa is currently spearheading a SaaS project at Firewood.

In the landscape of project management, the agile methodology has transitioned from being a specialised approach in software development to a globally recognised framework for managing projects across diverse sectors. My journey from a dedicated student to a working professional within the demanding realm of software engineering has given me a unique vantage point to appreciate the practical applications and inherent benefits of agile principles. 

 

This article explores how I used the principles of agile in my academic pursuits, particularly the detailed execution of my dissertation, and my professional career. I’ll also highlight the way agile methods played a critical role in improving academic and professional project outcomes and promoting a culture of ongoing improvement.

From academic theory to agile practice

As a university student, agile was more than just a part of the curriculum – it was essential for everything we did. The formidable challenge of dissertation writing, traditionally seen as a solitary and linear task, was reimagined as a cooperative and fluid endeavour through the agile methodology. Adopting agile's foundational principles, I broke down my dissertation into smaller, more manageable segments, each culminating in a review session with my advisor. These segments, akin to agile sprints, facilitated consistent reflection, adjustment, and progress. This method didn’t only streamline and clarify the workflow, but also clarified my knowledge of project management as a discipline, providing a solid groundwork for my future projects.

 

Incorporating agile practices into academic projects has proven to yield benefits that extend beyond personal success stories. Thompson and Fernandez (2018) in the Journal of Educational Methodology highlight how iterative feedback loops, a staple of agile methodology, have significantly enhanced project management skills among students. This is particularly relevant to academic writing and projects, which often suffer from a lack of iterative development. By breaking down large writing tasks, such as dissertations or research papers, into smaller, manageable sections (sprints), students can focus on incremental progress, frequently reassess their work, and adapt to new insights, much like agile teams do.

Furthermore, Liu et al. (2019) in the International Journal of Project Management provide empirical evidence that agile's emphasis on flexibility and stakeholder involvement—principles like regular check-ins and peer reviews—directly correlates with improved project outcomes. In an academic context, this means encouraging students to regularly seek feedback from peers and advisors, which can transform the typically solitary task of academic writing into a collaborative process. This not only improves the quality of the academic work but also prepares students for the world outside of school and university, where dynamic collaboration is found in many professional environments.

 

Agile in the professional sphere: a seamless transition

Stepping into my career as a software engineer, agile moved from an academic concept to a crucial element of project execution. The principles of agile, refined during my time at university, were invaluable in managing the complexities of software development projects. My first role after graduation offered a prime opportunity to apply and perfect these principles in a practical setting. By dividing project tasks into sprints and adopting agile rituals such as daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives, we fostered an atmosphere of openness, cooperation, and continuous feedback.

 

This methodical yet adaptable approach to project management markedly enhanced our team's capability to meet deadlines, adjust to changing requirements, and uphold a high quality standard. The significance and advantages of agile methodologies in software engineering are well supported by academic research. For example, a study by Ghimire, et al, ‘The Impact of Agile Development Practices on Project Outcomes’.

 

Reflections on agile methodology: beyond software engineering

The tenets of agile methodology, which emphasise adaptability, collaboration, and continual improvement, extend beyond the realm of software engineering. As my career advanced, the broad applicability of these tenets became ever more apparent. Agile represents not just a project management strategy but a mindset that can transform how organisations tackle projects, regardless of their field. The evolution from an engineering student using agile to succeed in dissertation work to a project manager promoting its use in professional projects demonstrates the profound impact of agile principles.

How to use agile approached outside of projects: 

  1. Goal setting: Break down your academic, personal or professional goals into smaller, actionable tasks, akin to Agile sprints. Regularly reassess and adapt what you’re doing based on progress.

  2. Have brief check-in meetings with yourself or your team to review progress, identify any issues, and prioritise tasks. This will keep everyone aligned towards common objectives.

  3. Experiment, experiment, experiment to find what works. Try new methods, adjust what you’re doing, ask for feedback and deliver better. Fail fast, learn faster!

  4. Set time to reflect and improve at the end of each ‘phase’ or iteration to consider what’s working, what’s not and what more you can do. Celebrate the wins and make a plan to implement change for future success.

In summary, my experiences highlight the importance of adopting agile principles early in your career. The shift from academic projects to professional engagements underscored the versatility and effectiveness of the agile methodology, not just in software engineering but in various domains. When implemented successfully, agile principles can significantly improve project outcomes, cultivate a culture of collaboration and ongoing improvement, and, ultimately, contribute to the success of an organisation. My journey from the academic to the professional sphere, enriched by the agile methodology, stands as a testament to the lasting value of this dynamic and adaptable approach to project management.

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