What does Agile mean to you?

Scrum. What does that word conjure up for you? If you’re a sports fan, you’ll probably be able to picture muddy green field and a bunch of well-built, mud-stained blokes pushed into a huddle, kicking an oval ball about. The scrum is indeed an essential element of the game of rugby. On the other hand, if you’re deeply immersed in the world of software development, “scrum” will have a whole different meaning.

For the uninitiated, “scrum” in the hi-tech world is an element of Agile software development. There are lots of Agile resources online, so I won’t regurgitate them here, except for the following from Wikipedia:

"The Agile Manifesto declares:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

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Yes, it’s the second bullet that poses the greatest test for technical writers. At its heart, Agile downplays the significance of documentation. A company implementing Agile development can soon find themselves without either comprehensive internal documentation or sufficient support for end-user information. More and more companies are considering the move to Agile and this poses a challenge for technical writers and documentation teams.

When working out how documentation and technical writers fit into Agile, there are many factors to consider. These can range from the kind of software being developed, to the type of end users, and even what the corporate culture is. In addition, each company can implement Agile in their own way and pick and choose the parts of Agile that suit them best. From my own experience of integrating documentation into the Agile process, technical writers and documentation managers need to stay focused on the job they’re trying to do. Don’t become too obsessed with the process itself and the urge to be part of every meeting. You don’t necessarily need to have your output ready in time with every software iteration.

If you find yourself suddenly faced with the word Agile, don’t despair. Take a deep breath and then talk to people who’ve had experience managing documentation teams and projects in an Agile environment. What’s your experience working in Agile?