Headforwards founding director Toby Parkins shares his thoughts about how Agile approach can help businesses innovate in challenging times.
Once any word becomes a buzzword, it’s at risk of losing its meaning. And Agile is no exception.
But the benefits of Agile can be significant to a business, particularly in the current era and upcoming turbulent times we’re likely to be facing. Scrum master and Agile Lead, Tom Clark shares the benefits of ‘real Agile’ and how to avoid the buzzword version.
Responding to change
Agile thrives in environments where change is frequent and requirements evolve on an ongoing basis. Software development is a perfect example, and so are many other technology and customer-facing environments.
When clients experience our working practices first-hand, they can be surprised at how effective we are at responding to change. We respond to change quickly, with no panic, because we’re perfectly set up to deal with changing requirements. We expect change and we design for it because of our Agile culture.
For many organisations, the ability to deal with changing contexts gracefully is one of the most attractive elements of Agile.
Peeling back the layers
It’s possible for businesses that aren’t set up to be Agile to gain some of the benefits, but it is hard.
The challenge for traditionally hierarchical organisations is that their processes and layers can be an impediment to Agile. If your processes dictate that five or six people need to sign something off, it’s likely this will slow down you down. Someone’s always likely to be away, or off sick or prioritising something else.
In these instances, businesses aren’t set up to empower their teams to deliver a specific task autonomously. Whereas in Agile, a self-organising team has the autonomy to work out who is doing what, who needs to be included in the process to ensure the outcome and they have the ability to define how they’re going to work on their own. They are trusted to deliver.
Agile as a buzzword
When the call comes down from the upper echelons of your business that you need to implement Agile, you’re immediately at risk of venturing into Agile buzzword territory.
It might sound easy to set up some self-organising teams, but it’s almost impossible to enable Agile if your culture isn’t set up to support it. You have to move towards building a culture of trust, and a culture that is responsive to change.
Business leaders misunderstand the importance of their own buy-in and responsibility for shifting the culture of the organisation to enable a true implementation of Agile.
How to avoid a superficial Agile implementation
We consider there to be two influencing factors to a meaningful Agile implementation. Firstly, the senior leaders in the business need to understand the real benefits of a cultural change, namely the ability to respond to change, earlier feedback cycles, increased trust and motivation in their teams. And secondly, from the bottom up in the business, your teams and people need to believe that the company will facilitate a successful implementation. They have to have faith that the transformation will happen and will be real.
True Agile transformation is a cultural change, not a process change
One of the principles of the Agile Manifesto states the importance of individuals and interactions over processes and tools. When Agile implementations go wrong, it’s often because organisations implement standups, sprint cycles and ceremonies before they consider the need to adjust culture or behaviours.
Successful communication within Agile should happen on a needs-basis, the ability to ask the person the question you need an answer to, rather than speaking to a manager, team leader etc. Communication on a needs-basis means it can happen at any point, and you need the right culture to enable this. Whereas if you take a process-led approach, communications tend to be scheduled and more formal.
It’s much more difficult to change culture than it is to implement a few new processes. But if you don’t tackle this area head on, your organisation isn’t maximising the benefit of an Agile transformation.