I sat in on a job interview recently when I was asked how to improve the process of the department. I suggested (among other things) switching to an agile or at least a hybrid agile approach after learning what their current process was. I was told since they weren’t developing software directly for these particular projects, that wouldn’t be an option. So I knew right then that TPTB didn’t really understand what it meant to tackle projects with an agile approach.
It is fair to say that for the majority of projects and industries, agile does work and work quite well. But even in software development agile struggles in regulated industries (financial, healthcare -from my own personal experience – comes to mind). Often it is thought that agile’s iterative approach simply woudn’t work within the harsh frameworks of tightly regulated industries.
But for example in the healthcare industry, regulations are constantly changing and changing at a pace never seen before. So the ability to adapt and to do so quickly can mean success or failure. This is a new approach to be sure for these type of projects, but the flexibility of the rapid pace of change gives agile the edge.
The key to agile in regulated industries is a balance of the rapid pace of the iterations with the often exhausting documentation that simply must be produced with tightly regulated industries such as healthcare. Sometimes this may mean a hybrid approach between agile and waterfall. The key is knowing how and when to blend the two together. Also another key factor is to really know the full depth of the regulations you must follow. Since the regulations are often rapidly changing it is a matter of utilizing an agile approach to let the team move and evolve the project as the regulations do.
One of the biggest impediments to implementing an agile approach is what I encountered during the interview. Many people are still stuck in the mindset of having a full featured set of deliverables in place by the date shown on the critical path which is usually determined by the marketing department. But the key and secret to showing how powerful an agile approach can be is to start small with perhaps a hybrid approach when needed, but to also show in increments how agile can be beneficial in the long run. No matter the project or industry.