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Leverage Agile & Iterative Development Models in Periods of Disruption (like now!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020 3:23 PM | Jan Szmanda

By: Megan Torrance

Have you ever conducted an experiment that required several rounds of testing? Or rehearsed a presentation in front of your friends before doing it in front of a live audience? You’ve worked iteratively. It’s not rocket science. 

How does it make a project better?

Iterative development focuses the team on a near term deliverable and holds team members accountable to deadlines & budgets. Ever started a project with a ton of grand ideas only to realize halfway through that you don’t have the bandwidth to execute them? It’s not fun. It’s disappointing. And it can cause your team members or project sponsors to question your ability or lose trust in future work. 

Iterative development approaches like Agile and LLAMA® can help you prevent these types of situations from occurring because it forces you to analyze and evaluate things at planned, defined stages. It also breaks big projects down into manageable increments, which helps alleviate the stress of a giant deliverable that may seem scary and nearly impossible at first glance. By breaking a project up into iterations, you not only give yourself and your team more opportunities for feedback, you also tie in a different level of control that may have been missing before.

What does iterative development mean in an instructional design context? 

At its most basic level, instead of following a linear, waterfall shaped ADDIE approach, we’re going to incorporate frequent rounds of implementation and evaluation throughout the project in order to get needed insights from learners into the process. 

At each iteration, we're looking at what worked, what didn't work, and what still needs to be done. Developing in iterations helps us ask the right questions. 

  • What prevents us from releasing right now? 

  • Does this solve the problem? 

  • Are we even asking the right question itself? 

Each iteration then kicks off a new round of design and development. And we keep doing this until we run out of time, resources, or things worth fixing. This last piece is key: If we run out of things to fix, it may mean it may mean that we're releasing something earlier than we thought we would... because we finished it! 

To reiterate a key point: Once we’ve landed on something that works, we don't do an additional polishing round on it. This allows us to broaden the footprint of the material, the content, and the business problem that we solve, because we're not overworking each individual piece.

So why iterate? 

The iterative process gives us the ability to find out mistakes earlier. Are we going off track? Where have we crossed paths in our assumptions? Are we solving the right problem? We find those big mistakes very early on in the development.

It also means that we always have a useful product. Iterations always give us the ability to release something of value. It may not be beautiful yet, but it is something of value. This happens all the time: Organizations’ budget priorities get changed. A new emergency project comes in in the middle of something else. A global pandemic forces us all to change our plans drastically. With iterations we have a useful deliverable that can be handed off and used in some fashion to teach from at any point in the project. That’s a really powerful reason to do this.

Finally, it simply feels good to deliver something. We hit this milestone, we released this thing.  Working on a project for an extended period of time without seeing any deliverables is just a soul-sucking way to live. Being able to release an iteration, and reflect and learn, that's really powerful. 

How can you use iterative development to your advantage right now?

With the COVID- 19 pandemic upon us, our projects are changing rapidly and frequently in terms of budget, bandwidth, timelines, deliverables and available resources. This is a perfect opportunity to use iterative development, releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) much earlier in your project timeline than you otherwise might have. While the idea of this can be scary or intimidating at first, it provides the team with a real deliverable that can be seen, tested, evaluated, and expanded upon down the road. Furthermore, if an MVP is met with awesome feedback and minimum requested changes, you might be done with your project sooner, and ready to take on something new.

With iterative development, what we're trying to do is to make small mistakes earlier and maybe skip the big mistakes all together. In today’s world, we’re being asked to do more, with less ... now faster and under stress. That likely won’t change anytime soon, so making strides to adapt is something to consider sooner rather than later. Using Agile’s techniques to guide your business in making these adaptations is not only an excellent step in the right direction, it helps you do more, with less, faster and under stress. 

Stay safe out there.

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