Allannah Rodrigues, Founder & Managing Director, Get Agile
Agile is ubiquitous. It can be found underpinning some of the largest companies in the world and is, of course, a widely used framework in start-ups from Seoul to Silicon Valley. As the corporate world becomes more comfortable with agile frameworks it is becoming more common to find them popping up within non-technical parts of the business: HR, Finance and Legal to name a few, with the commensurate benefit of seeing each of these parts of the business becoming more transparent and more people-centric.
It must be noted, however, that the transition to Agile isn't always smooth and many organisations on this journey find themselves substantially hampered by the rollout of new ways of working to the point where the impact is negative at first, and the rewards come much later. As not all large organisations are patient with change, the impact can be a failed or aborted attempt at transformation with massive impact to both bottom line and reputation.
Part of the reason that transformation is challenging is that widespread adoption has brought with it a plethora of techniques, tools, products (and consultants) that have strayed far from the four simple values at the heart of Agile. As such, some of the ‘advancements’ espoused by experts have made implementations more complex with large-scale transition taking upwards of two to three years.
So, before you get ready to take the next step in your business’s agile journey consider focusing on people first
SAFe, for example, has been developed as a scaling framework for Agile. It provides a mechanism for managing the challenges of running multiple Scrum teams in parallel, but in doing so invokes a fairly heavyweight planning process which requires all teams to be brought together for workshops over multiple days. It also requires multiple specific roles for managing this planning process and corresponding releases. Don't get me wrong, there are significant benefits to this approach (e.g. to gain a clear picture of priorities and to tease out things like the dependencies between teams) but moving to a scaled framework before getting the fundamentals right is a common problem with organisation-wide Agile transformation initiatives and the consequences are wasted effort, funds and lost momentum. Teams can feel frustrated by processes that take up huge chunks of time with little obvious return.
Another area of over-complication is tools. Integrating Agile tools (e.g., virtual boards to visualise the work of the team) can be another area of inefficiently spent time and budget. Again, there are many benefits to taking a more sophisticated approach, and many useful software products are available for data visualisation and workflow management, but it is just as valid to use a physical board with tasks laid out on hand-written post-it notes stuck on a wall somewhere accessible to the team.
Both of the examples above are common and illustrate a frequently observed issue: businesses ‘doing’ Agile rather than ‘being' Agile. Leaders can get caught up in rolling out processes and frameworks and tools and forget that Agile is fundamentally about valuing people over process in order to design and deliver better products.
So, before you get ready to take the next step in your business’s Agile journey consider focusing on people first. One of the best ways to do this is by ensuring you have your feedback loops right: Do you have a way for your customers to give you inputs on your products early and often? Have you created a psychologically safe environment for your teams to operate within? If not, think about starting there as this will create space for your business to reflect and adapt so that your Agile journey evolves rather than being forced. It's an approach that creates advocates, and the impact is much more likely to result in successful transformation.