7 key considerations for agile ways of working

The world we live in is changing at pace. Technology has had (and continues to have) a huge impact on the way we live and work, and some of the things that we now take for granted simply didn’t exist a few years ago. Such a pace of change offers both opportunities and challenges, whether that be from a business perspective or at a more personal level. So how do we embrace this shift towards agile working, how do we maximise the value for ourselves, our families, our colleagues, our businesses, and our clients?

Most of us have come across the term ‘agile’, some will have worked in an agile environment, and experiences will no doubt have been both good and bad. So, what is agile, and what are some of the things that we should consider when thinking about transitioning to an agile way of working?

01 The whole organisation

Agile is often thought of as solely a project management methodology. However, for an organisation to fully embrace change and undertake successful business transformation, the whole organisation needs to be involved in, and take ownership for, shifting to a different (better) way of working. Business leaders need to create the right culture for enterprise agility, eliminate silos and encourage and foster innovation. Change agents and business as usual operational teams need to work collaboratively, not separately or in conflict.

02 Multimodal working

Every organisation is different, whether they are primarily defined by size, industry, technology, risk, culture, ethos, style, working practices or a combination of these. Organisations need the flexibility to deliver work in a way which is right for their unique makeup, and this applies equally to those delivering the work. Multimodal working allows and encourages different ways of approaching and delivering work to suit the organisation and the employees. Such approaches may include a combination of programmes, projects, agile approaches or something else altogether. A mix of tools, techniques and methodologies may be deployed, such as #SCRUM, #Kanban, #Kaizen, #Lean, and the organisation may choose to operate under guides such as #AgileSHIFTTM.

03 Value

Value is, by its nature, inherently subjective and is a balance between the benefit gained and the cost of the resources required to deliver that benefit. The primary purpose of an organisation is to meet (or exceed) the expectations of its stakeholders, whether those stakeholders are customers, employees, or other interested (or impacted) parties. Organisations would naturally want to maximise the value they deliver, and they may therefore undertake various business transformation activities to try to optimise such value. Agile ways of working can help here. An agile approach allows the organisation to demonstrate and deliver value early and often. This can be achieved through regular customer demonstrations where they can visualise or physically interact with an aspect of the overall product. Regular handovers to the end customer can also help to grow confidence in the product and enables early value realisation.

04 Fail fast

‘Fail’ is often considered to be such a negative word. However, in an agile environment, fast and early failure should be encouraged. This does not mean that the organisation should focus on failure, but instead means that the organisation recognises and accepts that there will be both successes and failures throughout new product development or business transformation, and the earlier that they force out those failures, and then take corrective action the better. It is far better that those failures are flushed out early, rather that being discovered post-delivery. Extensive testing and incremental delivery is the way to go, alongside having the nerve to cancel work early that will not ultimately deliver value to the stakeholders.

05 Plan, but with flexibility in mind

Planning is, without doubt an important aspect of successful delivery, whether taking a more traditional waterfall approach or a more flexible agile approach. Plans are a starting point, and they are of course taking a best guess at what the future will look like. Because of this, we need to be prepared to accept that plans may, and probably will, change. This does not give every project manager a way out of schedule delays but does recognise the need for a ‘planning horizon’, where short term activities can be planned in some detail, but activities that are further out will only be planned at a high level. Agile approaches include iterations, sprints, epics and customer stories a way of iteratively planning and delivering those short-term goals, whilst keeping an eye on the longer-term roadmap. Organisations should not be afraid of change mid-delivery if that is what is required to maximise value, and they should work hand-in-hand with customers to optimise this balance.

06 Visualise

One of the most prominent aspects of a project team following an agile approach to delivery is the widespread use of visual reporting, ranging from simple task lists, to customer stories, #Kanban boards and information radiators. Traditionally these decorate the walls of a central dedicated project room, but modern tools and apps are now frequently used to similar effect for teams that cannot easily co-locate. Daily stand-up meetings (typically lasting 15-30 minutes) are held with the information radiators as a physical or virtual backdrop. Visualisation in this way, helps the team to stay focussed on what really matters for the current iteration, and allows teams to spend more time on delivery and less time on unnecessary reporting.

07 Build collaborative teams

Teams in an agile environment are actively encouraged to be self-organising, in that they should decide for themselves how to best deliver the work. This should be conducted in a collaborative manner with a joint commitment from the team to deliver value-add outcomes for the organisation. Collaborative teams bring many advantages, including greater satisfaction for those individuals involved, an increased focus on the customer, shared responsibilities and shared competencies along with a mutual trust amongst those that make up the team. Teams should feel truly empowered to make their own decisions, to adjust and change as required, to respond quickly to customer feedback, and as a result maximise value for all stakeholders.

There are, of course many other important factors to consider that will enable an organisation to transition to a truly agile way of working. Hopefully the above seven considerations will provide a small insight and some food for thought!

Written by: Nigel Galloway


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