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SaaS and Agile Project Management - A Good Fit?

03 Apr 2019

Software as a service (SaaS) has been one of the major models for cloud-based computing for some years now. It replaced the traditional way of purchasing software and introduced a subscription model that made everything more seamless and (usually) more affordable.

What's more, SaaS owners provide continuous support and additional features to their customers through software updates, for as long as they remain subscribed to their service. Can Saas and Agile project management be a good fit in the development of such products?

Let's find out.

The purpose of SaaS

Cloud computing was developed, in order to deliver a more efficient solution when it comes to software, platforms and even infrastructure to various users ranging from individuals to enterprises. SaaS, in particular, was designed to deliver working software to end-user in a more seamless, affordable and reliable way.

As an example, you can subscribe to a software solution and use it on any number of devices, anywhere in the world. On the other hand, not so long ago, you had to purchase a software license for each device you planned to use it on.

Aside from providing an entirely new level of convenience, SaaS owners strive towards delivering ongoing value to customers through software upgrades and bug fixes, among other things. Simply put, SaaS solutions drive business value by providing the right kind of service to customers.

Agile fit in SaaS

Agile software development and project management are also designed to maximize business value and deliver exceptional product quality to customers. Can these principles, as well as other Agile strategies be implemented into the development of SaaS?

Short answer, yes they can.

Long answer, it depends on if the Agile is the right approach for the project in mind and how Agile is perceived, to begin with.

Let's break it down a bit, in order to make things a bit more clear. Agile principles, when it comes down to software development and project management, focus on an iterative approach that will deliver working software or at least bits of working software in short time periods called "sprints". In addition, Agile strives towards providing a rapid and cost-effective method to software development, compared to lengthily and expensive traditional methods. Both Agile and SaaS have the same goal in mind and that is delivering value to the end-user.

Still, there's an issue of how that value should be delivered that causes SaaS teams and organizations to consider Agile as not a really good fit. For instance, changes in the SaaS package are delivered on release alongside release notes that explain what's new. In other words, SaaS owners have delivered additional value. However, these changes are not made available during the test phase and organizations don't have the option to accept them or not. That said, organizations cannot review changes in the test phase, which means there are no user stories or acceptance criteria that would influence the changes before they are actually released.

saas and agile

How Agile can improve the process?

Agile project management can ensure value to the end user and SaaS solutions strive towards delivering value. Agile methodology can help SaaS achieve that with the end-user's best interest in mind, but only if an organization considers Agile to be an advantage or a benefit in SaaS projects. In other words, there's no need to implement Agile practices if they won't help you in any way. However, Agile can, in fact, provide efficiency and speed to software development, which means it should at least be considered as a possible addition to your projects.

But how can Agile practices improve the software development or project management is SaaS? Simply put, Agile methodology can bring back the focus on the end-user value. If you're using an iterative approach, backlogs and other Agile practices to improve the value of the customer to your business or the value of your business to your investors, then you're not using Agile to deliver value to customers but the other way around.

Delivering value to users should be a measure of your work because the more value you provide to users the more value you deliver to your business. On the other hand, if you focus on customer value only, but you're not fast enough to deliver it through Agile practices, you're losing a competitive edge on the market. With that in mind, the Agile method in SaaS should be able to balance things out accordingly and ensure both customers satisfaction and business efficiency.

How to implement Agile in SaaS?

It's important to understand that Agile is not just a set of principles, strategies or methodologies. As a matter of fact, it's also a mindset that needs to be adopted, as well. Therefore, adopting the Agile approach to SaaS needs to come from everyone within the organization. Only then can you devise a plan on how to utilize the Agile principles and strategies the best way possible. As an example, an Agile approach will include:

  • Proper training for all teams - You cannot expect to accomplish anything when adopting an Agile approach if you don't provide adequate training to all team members. That way you can develop an Agile environment that will foster iterative strategies and effective principles on all SaaS projects. You might even consider hiring additional agile experts (check out our suggestions for interview questions).
  • Executive support - As mentioned before, the willingness to adapt must come from everyone within the organization starting from the very top. If executive decisions differ from Agile practices, you're going to have a conflict of interests.
  • A supportive strategy - Every change invokes skepticism, doubt and even fear in some cases. The key figures within an organization must be supportive of this change, in order to ensure that everyone will adjust accordingly.
  • Discipline - The Agile approach requires discipline, in order to be executed properly. When SaaS product is being developed, it's very important to ensure proper prioritization, realization and execution of strategies, as well as features that will drive value for the end-product.

When considering Agile project management in SaaS, it's important to understand that you don't have to do it, just because you think you should. The Agile approach is only viable in SaaS if it can help improve the process and provide benefits to your organization.