You’re tasked with investigating the rationale, benefits and costs of introducing Agile to your organisation or team. You’ve read inspirational but vague articles that promote the benefits of Agile, you’ve heard speakers reference reputable organisations that have wholeheartedly adopted Agile, every corporate strategy seems to reference the need for agility and Agile methodologies are sold as the panacea to all that is wrong in the world. You may have even begun to use aspects of an Agile process framework like Scrum or Kanban. This is all well and good….. but you’re finding it hard to realise actual benefits or source real-world success stories that relate to you and your organisation. Internally there is even confusion at the leadership level if Agile is a cultural thing or an IT thing. You need to be confident that Agile will bring your organisation real benefits and you need how and when they will materialise. You’re asking the question ‘where do I start…. where do I REALLY start and what should I REALLY expect to achieve?’ See our 2019 Agile fundamentals course here.
This is the very question I would love to hear at the beginning of every new client engagement – ‘Where do we really start?’. Sometimes an organisation has already started some initiatives – then I like when the organisation starts a discussion with ‘Where are we on our journey?’. Often when I am called in to advise or train, the organisation or team are waist deep into the delivery of a product or service that is struggling. They want Agile to be a silver bullet methodology or process that will allow them to deliver faster, cheaper and allow them to use some buzz-words and buzz-ceremonies like sprint, stand-up, MVP, kanban board or story. They may have started by adopting a process without fully understanding or exploring the foundational principles or values that should underpin all Agile initiatives. While there is merit in Agile processes, events and terminology, it’s not where we should start. Adopting a process without adopting the values can be counterproductive. I have witnessed many so-called ‘Agile failures’ that have resulted from a well-meaning but ill-formed mutant hybrid of ‘Agile’ clashing with company culture, draining resources, confusing people and not adding value. It’s usually derived from cherry-picked components of the popular Scrum or XP frameworks, focussed on easy to implement features and skipping a whole lot of the more difficult mindset shift stuff. It’s business as usual with a new tool. It usually takes a couple of days observation and some honest chat with those on the front line and those in leadership positions to realise the enthusiasm has faded and the initiative has lost its way. The anticipated benefits, both explicit in terms of enhanced delivery of finished business value and tacit in terms of collaboration, innovation and team/ customer happiness has not materialised. Morale is low and the initiative is on a cliff edge. However, this stage of realisation is important and can be leveraged as the beginning of a major milestone on our organisation’s Agile transformation. This Agile thing is harder and goes deeper than we thought. We may even have been guilty of ‘a little knowledge is actually dangerous’. The road to Agile nirvana is long and involves progressing through a number of stages of maturity. The good thing is that we now recognise this and that it’s going to involve opening our mind to new ideas, personal and collective growth, a mindset set change and a journey!
So, ‘Where should we REALLY begin?’
Well, we begin with honesty, about ourselves, our organisation and where we see our organisation, not only within our industry but also within greater society. What are our values? How do we want to uphold and reflect them in what we want to achieve and the activities we do every day? Aligning our purpose with organisational and personal milestones is a very powerful enabler and energizer for individuals and teams. Our organisation does not exist within a bubble but within the greater context of an evolving society that faces immense decisions and responsibilities. This type of review has to emanate from leaders and permeate the team layer throughout the organisation or unit under review. I like to bring leaders and teams through the original Agile manifesto 12 principles (more for tech focussed teams) or talk through the 4 guiding principles of Modern Agile (applies to tech and non-tech teams). Ultimately teams like when we use these inspiring principles to come up with our own.
Every business and every industry is different, there is no one set of values, framework or methodology that fits all. The important outcome is that we have collectively soul searched and come up with a shared vision based on agreed values and principles. We can then review the Agile processes and see which ones have good ideas that support the way we want to work. Often at the beginning of our Agile journey, we start with one that suits our team and projects and then as we learn we adjust it to suit us.
So, we start with assessing our vision, values and principles. Often organisations pay lip service to these. I suggest we revisit them and refocus the wording to be meaningful and reflect the reason the organisation exists and why it will exist in the future. We don’t use words like ‘striving’ we use action or statement words like ‘we are’. Examples
- We put our CUSTOMERS at the centre of all that we do
- We value, challenge and reward our PEOPLE
- We drive excellent sustainable FINANCIAL performance
- We value IDEAS and COLLABORATION
- We act RESPONSIBLY and SUSTAINABLY
- Our INNOVATION is customer driven
- QUALITY & SAFETY in all that we do
This clearly sets out to those inside and outside where we stand and will reflect in internal decisions and external perception. Senior leaders must all agree on this vision and live the values. Actions and behaviour are contagious. Teams have the same reflection activity and are asked their interpretation of the organisational values and how they fit within their personal values and activities within the organisation.
Of course, not every situation needs as deep an intervention but the truest Agile adoptions begin with aligning Agile principles to the organisational values. We need to mesh in the Agile values of
- Empower people
- Embed safety to
- Deliver value continuously
- Empirical methods – experiment and learn quickly
This process can happen quickly and must be inclusive. It will give 2 major valuable insights.
- Our reassessing, aligning and reinforcement of commitment to our values and goals throughout the organisation
- An understanding of our readiness to begin to roll out the change needed to become more agile
The movement to adjust our values and mindset is the first major milestone. It sets the foundation for how we progress on our Agile journey. If we believe in and live the values of ‘enabling people, embedding safety, continuous integration’ and the ’empirical approach of experimenting-learning-adapting’ the new structures that support these values and work approaches will be much easier to identify and adopt.
R1 is a people and learning consultancy that specialises in supporting organisations transforming to Being Agile not just Doing Agile. Talk to us to see how we can help your organisation become more innovative, customer focused and productive.