Pragmatic Agile: Making it work in highly regulated markets

You can use Agile business and development techniques and maintain the controls needed to ensure compliance in regulated markets.


Since its birth in the mid-1990s, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Agile, as an approach to project delivery, has been the way in which it has engendered such fierce loyalties amongst some organisations, whilst others have ignored or dismissed it, continuing to deploy more traditional methods.

Advocates of Agile testify to its ability to successfully transform delivery and management processes, bringing about significant improvements in delivery times, efficiency and productivity. Sceptics argue that Agile is best suited to small and medium sized organisations and wrongly perceive Agile as a limited, over-hyped business technique, with inadequate controls or a lack of discipline, negating its use in the highly regulated corporate world.

What is Agile?

The term ‘Agile’ was coined by the Agile Alliance, in 2001, and is described within the ‘Agile Manifesto’ – a document created and signed by representatives from the leading Agile approaches, such as Scrum, DSDM, and eXtreme Programming.

Agile advocates recognise that ‘Waterfall’ sequential process-driven delivery methodologies are not generally suitable in the complex world of Information Technology projects, where complexity and volatility are the norm and where a more empirical ‘inspect and adapt’ approach is required.

‘Agile’ is now the accepted generic term for the family of empirical delivery approaches that are designed to work in dynamic environments. Today, numerous organisations have already achieved significant repeat benefit from implementing Agile approaches, including those in highly regulated Private and Public Sector organisations.

The transformation to Agile achieves early and repeatable success by focusing on discrete, valuable, deliveries that incrementally provide tangible business value.

The deployment of working software, and the subsequent results’ analysis, is delivered in much faster, regular, predictable cycles than in traditional ‘Waterfall’ methods. This ensures that each timed-boxed activity or ‘iteration’ delivers measurable value to the business.

As Agile teams become more proficient they can apply the process to increasingly larger and more complex projects. The inbuilt flexibility of Agile provides the means to adapt to change while still maintaining business value. It is this important feature of Agile that maintains competitive edge in volatile industries.

Agile enables significant increases in the quality of products through visibility, predictability and repeatability of the processes, progress and functionality of the system or project being delivered; all of which are especially important within regulated industries. Agile has the ability to deliver to strict deadlines, and to adapt projects in line with the evolving business requirements.

Roger Leaton, Agile Advocate at BT, describes Agile as ‘the successful delivery of business value in a changing environment’. In other words, a significant benefit of Agile is that it allows an organisation to adapt quickly and effectively when it needs to, and to anticipate change driven by internal and wider market conditions. The learning, from the feedback on each iterative delivery, is used to ensure the project is continually providing the highest business value and promotes ongoing improvement.

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