The Agile Movement: Saviour of techies, disruptor of traditional project management and one of the most misunderstood terms of 2017. While it has its roots in the 70s, its true value only came to the fore in recent years, as organisations strived for a more fluid, adaptive approach to managing projects.
But just what is it? How do you go about introducing it and why is enterprise change management (ECM) such a crucial consideration? To answer these questions, we need to dig a little deeper.
Agile management in a nutshell
Without wishing to over-simplify things, agile management involves the division of a company into small teams of employees, each one acting like a start-up in its own right. The aim is to change the way your company runs to meet the ever-changing demands of the global market. There is even an ‘Agile Manifesto,’ which sets out the values and principles behind the system – including self-organisation, collaboration and cross-functionality of teams.
There are lots of terms and expressions used, but, borrowing from The Agile Alliance website, the concepts to remember are:
- User Stories: In consultation with the customer or product owner, the team divides up the work to be done into functional increments called “user stories.” Each user story is expected to yield a contribution to the value of the overall product.
- Daily Meeting: Each day at the same time, the team meets so as to bring everyone up to date on the information that is vital for coordination: each team members briefly describes any “completed” contributions and any obstacles that stand in their way.
- Incremental Development: Nearly all Agile teams favor an incremental development strategy; in an Agile context, this means that each successive version of the product is usable, and each builds upon the previous version by adding user-visible functionality.
- Iterative Development: Agile projects are iterative insofar as they intentionally allow for “repeating” software development activities, and for potentially “revisiting” the same work products.
- Team: A “team” in the Agile sense is a small group of people, assigned to the same project or effort, nearly all of them on a full-time basis. A small minority of team members may be part-time contributors, or may have competing responsibilities.
- Milestone Retrospective: Once a project has been underway for some time, or at the end of the project, all of the team’s permanent members (not just the developers) invests from one to three days in a detailed analysis of the project’s significant events.
- Personas: When the project calls for it – for instance when user experience is a major factor in project outcomes – the team crafts detailed, synthetic biographies of fictitious users of the future product: these are called “personas.”
Putting it into practice
So you can see the merits of Agile Management and believe it could benefit the way your company operates. But how do you go about introducing it. For traditional businesses, where a waterfall – or traditional sequential – approach is the norm, the transition can be difficult.
This is where ECM plays such a crucial role. It provides a framework to address many of the human, emotionally driven, issues that the introduction of Agile Management may reveal. For example stakeholder discomfort with cultural, business and social changes, informing and onboarding necessary stakeholders to ensure enterprise acceptance and steps to prioritise the most important features desired by the organisation.
Furthermore, if it is to be truly successful, a company’s ECM program must do more than simply overcome negative preconceptions. It must communicate a vision of the transformation that promotes positive participation.
While there are countless different ECM models, at the best are built around three key tenets:
Regardless of the change being introduced, no one is going to support it if they do not understand it, the purpose of the change and the tangible outcomes that are likely to result from it. To achieve this, managers and leaders must cut the waffle, breaking down complicated strategic and tactical plans into easily digestible nuggets of information that can be easily communicated across the enterprise.
The language we use and the messaging we put out to internal and external stakeholders can have a major impact on how the transformation is perceived. Our words and actions will directly impact stakeholders at subconscious and emotional level. A properly run ECM programme should allay any trepidation your workers may have, focus on the benefits the change will bring and the support that is in place to help them.
Perhaps the most obvious, but often the most overlooked factor, is the setting out of a clear path to bring about the change. In combination with the two tenets above, a well mapped out change plan that informs everyone of the role they will play helps flag any potential hurdles the enterprise might encounter, while offering certainty and direction for all those involved.
There is no doubt that Agile Management can radically improve the way a business works, increasing output, driving innovation and ultimately benefiting the bottom line. Having assisted numerous companies around the world to deliver such change, we know what works and what doesn’t. The key to ‘becoming agile’, however, lies in its implementation.