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DELTA Continues to Strive for Agility

Virtual Kanban board with an array of sticky notes in various colors. The notes are categorized.
DELTA's Applications Development team's traditional in-person Kanban board was transformed into an online version using Lucid Chart to support remote teamwork over the past year.

Providing value while upholding excellence for NC State is what DELTA strives to do. By focusing on an iterative approach and making sure to review, assess and improve along the way, DELTA has embraced the Agile approach.

Agile is a methodology of project management which focuses on iterative development, faster delivery of value and frequent feedback,” explains Associate Director, Project Management Merranie Zellweger. The philosophy was created 20 years ago in the software industry to better support how companies may deliver products or value to customers. DELTA has harnessed Agile’s ideas and standards across various teams and projects. “We are interested in continuing to create a culture of agility and embracing an Agile mindset,” Zellweger says.

Agile was introduced to DELTA in 2014 as a way to increase transparency and clarify workflows. With four values, 12 principles and various frameworks, Agile works toward improving efficiency and increasing quality. 

Zellweger says, “It’s not about doing all the same stuff faster, it’s about working iteratively and ensuring the flexibility to shift gears when you have to. This is accomplished through prioritization, accountability and visibility.” 

The Project Management (PM) team at DELTA implements Agile concepts and practices into their coaching and support. The team also founded the Project Management and Agile Community interest group in early 2019 for individuals to meet monthly and discuss Agile concepts, ideas and shared experiences across the university.

The implementation of Agile at DELTA has increased overall development and growth. “Our goals are to continue to adopt an Agile mindset across the organization, improve prioritization and cultivate a responsibility-driven culture,” Zellweger says. “We’re excited to continue working on all these areas.”

Agile’s tools were especially helpful throughout the shift to digital education during the pandemic. The use of its prioritization and delivery of value standards allowed DELTA to be proactive, making the transition easier. Teams were able to take practices they had implemented in-person and transition them rather easily to the online environment. 

As DELTA continues to adopt Agile’s principles into day-to-day processes, improvements are constantly being made throughout the organization. In the last year, Zellweger and the Applications Development team created a backlog to prioritize and funnel work for the team. The backlog is an efficient and transparent use of resources and aligns work to organizational priorities. Efficiency, transparency and alignment are central to Agile methodology.

“There are a variety of factors we weigh, but one is to work on things that are most critical and will provide the most value to the most people. The backlog is a tool to help us have the right conversations,” says Zellweger. “We can be transparent about what the team is working on and why.”

Agile’s values were also incorporated into the production of Wicked Problems, Wolfpack Solutions, an online course DELTA was tasked with developing. The DELTA team deployed Agile tools of review and retrospective to evaluate the course and make necessary improvements for the future. With the course’s second year being offered to incoming first-year and transfer students, the team is continuing to make enhancements using the Agile methodology. 

“Using Agile tools such as standing meetings, retrospectives and self-organizing teams, I believe allowed us to be more successful than if we had used a traditional project management style,” says Zellweger. “It’s also a great example of how you don’t have to be fully Agile to reap the benefits of this method of work. Being ‘Agile-ish’ made all the difference in these highly complex and fast-moving projects.” 

Agility at DELTA is here to stay. It’s shown to be effective in increasing efficiency for delivering value, and DELTA’s PM team is focused on efforts to provide continuous improvement and growth across the unit and the university.

If you’re interested in learning more about Agile and best practices related to its principles and standards, check out the Project Management and Agile Community interest group meetings hosted on the second Wednesday of each month.