Apple is an American worldwide corporation that designs and manufactures computer software products and consumer electronics. Apple was founded on April 1, 1976 in Cupertino, California by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne. The company’s most popular hardware products include the iPhone, iPod and Mac computers. Apple software includes the Mac OS X operating system, the iTunes media browser, the iLife suite of multimedia and creativity software, the iWork collection of productivity software, Final Cut Studio, a suite of professional audio and film-industry software products, and Logic Studio, a suite of audio tools. The company manages more than 250 retail stores in nine countries and an online store where hardware and software products are retailed. Apple employs over 150,000 full-time employees and is increasing every year. Apple has also brought in over 215 billion dollars of revenue in the last fiscal year with a net income around 46 billion dollars. Apple is the world’s largest information technology company by revenue and total assets and has net value that is estimated to be over $700 billion. With so many aspects of the company and the success of revenue and value, they rely heavily on project management. Apple must utilize a complex yet efficient project management core in order to have become this successful. That is where Agile comes into play.
Agile refers to an iterative, incremental method of managing the design and build activities of information technology and other business areas that aim to provide new product or service development in a highly flexible and interactive manner. Agile is a term that includes a number of approaches, methods, or ways to develop products or systems. Agile project management focuses on “continuous improvement, scope flexibility, team input, and delivering essential quality products.” In essence, a successful technological company is centered off a suitable Agile background. Agile was created by seventeen IT experts that gathered in Utah for a conference back in 2001. They came up with the Agile Manifesto and twelve principles that describe a set of guiding concepts that support project teams in implementing agile projects. These principles include: 1. The main goal is to satisfy the customer by delivering valuable products constantly and quickly 2. Since Agile processes are founded on changing requirements, change at any time during the project can be good for the customer and should be welcome 3. Working products or software should be delivered as soon as practically possible 4. Developers and business people should work together daily 5. Provide support to motivated people and then trust them to finish the job 6. Face-to-face communication is the best way to communicate 7. Progress is measured by a product that works 8. People should be able to work at a pace that is constant and sustainable 9. Focus on technical excellence and agility through good design 10. Keep it simple 11. A self-organizing team creates the best products 12. The team should reflect on its performance often and then make adjustments as necessary. Along with these principles Agile expressed one other major method, “The Roadmap to Value.” This is a high-level view of an Agile project. This map consists of seven stages. In stage one, the product owner identifies the product vision. This entails the definition of the product, how will the product support the company and who the user will be. In stage two, the product owner creates a product “roadmap.” This is a high-level view of the product requirements. This also identifies a loose time frame of the product. In stage three, the product owner creates a release plan. This includes a high-level timetable for releasing a working software. This timetable will release features with highest-priority. In stage four, product owner, master, and development team plan sprints. Sprints are short time periods of product development. In stage five, during these sprints they will have daily meetings with the project team in order to discuss yesterday’s progress and conflicts and what will happen today. In stage six, sprint review will take place. This is where demonstration to a senior executive takes place with a finished product. In stage seven, sprint retrospective takes place. This is where the project team discusses how this sprint went and what improvements they are going to work on in the next sprint.
Agile is broad and consists of other popular and commonly used methods like Scrum, Lean, and eXtreme programming. Agile is not just one specific process that is the same for all companies and their methods, but an understanding of rules and principles that establish an essential scheme that is unique to different companies. Ultimately, the Agile Manifesto is not about a particular process, but rather a set of values that was built on a respect for competence and that brings out the best in people.
Apple has always been known for being Agile by the company’s exceptional development in the consumer electronics and software development. The real question is if Apple is really Agile in regards to the Agile Manifesto created in 2001. Apple was created two decades before the manifesto, so how is it they were Agile before then. Apple used methods that were created long before the manifesto that have been incorporated into the idea of the ultimate Agile Manifesto.
Apple is revolved around one guy, Steve Jobs. Jobs was the founder and brains of the entire company. Everything the company developed, Jobs was directly involved. According to Scrum terminology, Jobs was the Product Owner. The Product Owner is defined as the person responsible for bridging the gap between the customer, business stakeholders, and development team. They are the expert and work daily with the development team to help clarify progress and requirements. Apple succeeded effortlessly with Jobs there to guide the way, but what about when he leaves. Finding a new product owner is harder than it seems. That’s why Apple implemented Agile methodologies in order to keep Apple successful with new product innovations and software development.
Keeping teams small is one of the major principles of the Agile process. Apple has been using the idea “big thinking but small everything else” as a core principle to the project team. With this notion, Jobs created a Top 100 meeting. This meeting consists of 100 hand-picked employees by Jobs that would last three days. This meeting is done in secrecy and discusses every detailed aspect of Apple and its direction. This is a way for Jobs to provide leaders with essentials that could potentially run the company. This meeting resembles Agile principle number five. This provided the support and knowledge to motivate these 100 individuals and trust them to carry on their daily jobs. Another Agile element that Apple uses is defining the responsibilities to its employees. The DRI “Directly Responsible Individual” is Apple’s famous management technique. This concept is simple yet efficient. Everything at Apple from the largest product design to the smallest action item gets assigned to someone who is directly responsible. It is then up to that person to get it done or find the resources needed to get it done. This allows Apple to find specific flaws of who didn’t do what or what didn’t work rather than just a broad idea. This management technique resembles Agile principle number twelve. The employee or team should reflect on its performance often and then make adjustments as necessary. Apple also likes to work in processes that are short and repetitive cycles. These can range from four to six weeks at most. Every process is short and always advancing on a previous project. It builds off the previous project until a final product is thoroughly crafted and released. EPMs and GSMs are based at the headquarters in California, but they do most of their work overseas in China where the manufacturing takes place. They will design, build, and test a product and bring it back to Apple headquarters for a Senior Executive to overlook. If unsatisfied they will start the process over again. This short and repetitive process is very Scrum-like and also resembles much of the Roadmap to Value. This entire seven stage process is done within 6 weeks and repeats itself throughout the year. This also relates to principle number four and six where the EPMs and GSMs work together daily and have face-to-face communications. After Jobs, the new CEO of Apple, John Sculley, announced that Apple had grown bureaucratic. There were too many committees that existed to address various corporate imperatives. Among its managers, conflict had arisen regarding budgeting power and competing agendas. Managers weren’t interested in the best interest of the product or software, but instead wanted to exceed the other managers. Sculley saw this as a problem and got rid of over four thousand managers and appointed people with a more technical background in these positions. Sculley wanted a technically advanced person whose best interest was in the product rather than someone who barely understood the product. This cut of managers resembles principles nine and eleven where the focus is primarily on the technical excellence of the product and self-organizing teams. These few examples stated all resemble Agile methodologies and its principles.
As we concluded, Agile is not a specific process or method. Instead, Agile is an understanding of principles that help establish a good project management team. Agile is broad and consists of multiple methods that are not the same for all companies. Apple is a successful company that has implemented its own methods that other companies have not yet been able to do. They have followed most of the twelve Agile principles in their own way and followed the Roadmap to Value. A majority of Apple’s processes strictly resemble Agile, but Apple has found even better ways to successful build off the Agile Manifesto. Ultimately, since Agile is not about a particular process but rather a set of values, it is safe to say that Apple, the world’s largest information technology company, is extremely Agile.
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