Agile is the most globally practised approach to creating digital products and services. It involves constant rigour, collaboration, and improvement at every phase of the development cycle. However, it’s a big, confusing, and uncomfortable departure from the traditional working styles that social impact organisations are accustomed to (often referred to as a ‘waterfall’ approach).
‘Waterfall’ is a linear approach to digital transformation with fixed schedules and deliverables. ‘Agile’ is an iterative approach that prioritises flexibility and collaboration.
Some of the reasons social impact organisations struggle with Agile include:
Organisational culture: Agile requires a cultural shift towards collaboration, ambiguity, flexibility, and continuous learning. Social impact organisations—particularly those with a bureaucratic and hierarchical structure—may find it challenging to embrace these values.
Working pace: When it comes to creating and launching new digital programmes and initiatives, social impact organisations often have to work at a slower pace due to the rigour, certainty, and decision-making needs of working with large groups of stakeholders. Agile works best when it has strong momentum and velocity.
Contractual requirements: Traditionally, social impact organisations use contracts that demand fixed requirements, deliverables, and timelines. This makes it difficult to adopt an agile approach that prioritises flexibility, adaptability, and a sense of unknown—hindering teams’ ability to make swift changes to deliverables and craft new solutions throughout the project.
Resource constraints: Agile requires a high level of collaboration and communication among team members. This can be challenging to achieve in resource-constrained environments—particularly in remote or conflict-affected areas—where team members are juggling multiple responsibilities.
Stakeholder management: Social impact organisations usually work with a diverse range of stakeholders, including governments, donors, beneficiaries, and implementing partners. Managing expectations and maintaining alignment on projects can be challenging in an agile environment where priorities and requirements are frequently subject to change.
Risk management: Agile requires a risk-tolerant culture where failure is viewed as an opportunity for learning and improvement. Social impact organisations operate in complex and dynamic contexts, with high levels of uncertainty and risk. This tends to create risk-averse cultures and a preference for more predictable, controlled approaches to delivery.
At Here I Am Studio, we enact an adapted version of the Agile manifesto that’s better designed to meet the needs of social impact organisations while preserving all the brilliant benefits of Agile working.
Here’s how our new, social impact Agile framework compares to the original Agile principles:
Agile principle 1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
HIA agile principle 1: The highest priority is to safely add value to users' lives as quickly as possible.
Agile principle 2: Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
HIA agile principle 2: Welcome changing requirements, even late in the project, to respond to changing user needs and contexts.
Agile principle 3: Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for a shorter timescale.
HIA agile principle 3: Deliver working digital products as soon as they safely add value to our users’ lives, with a preference for releases that have meaningful improvements.
Agile principle 4: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
HIA agile principle 4: Collaborate closely with users, experts, and stakeholders on the ground, leveraging their expertise and feedback to inform the design and development of digital products.
Agile principle 5: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
HIA agile principle 5: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
Agile principle 6: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
HIA agile principle 6: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
Agile principle 7: Working software is the primary measure of progress.
HIA agile principle 7: Positive user feedback is the primary measure of progress.
Agile principle 8: Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
HIA agile principle 8: Maintain a sustainable pace of work that prioritises the need for quality, safety, and security over the need for speed.
Agile principle 9: Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
HIA agile principle 9: Promote technical excellence and good design practices that support the long-term sustainability and scalability of digital products, while ensuring they are also secure and resilient.
Agile principle 10: Simplicity—the art of maximising the amount of work not done—is essential.
HIA agile principle 10: Keep things simple and minimise unnecessary complexity without compromising the safety and security needs of users.
Agile principle 11: The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams.
HIA agile principle 11: Empower and support teams to continuously improve, problem-solve, and work safely through regular feedback, retrospectives, skill-building, and training.
Agile principle 12: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.
HIA agile principle 12: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.
Overall, this social impact approach to Agile principles is highly flexible and collaborative. However, it places a greater emphasis on safely adding value to our users’ lives than on getting unfinished digital products into their hands as quickly as possible. This may cause us to work at a slightly slower velocity compared to those practising traditional Agile principles, but this adaptive approach remains significantly faster than a ‘Waterfall’ work style.
Interested in learning more about our adapted Agile approach for social impact organisations? We would love to hear from you. Connect with us on LinkedIn or send us an email—we’ll respond as soon as possible.