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Going Agile? 5 Keys To Success

Paul O’Shea, CEO of Kumoco

Agile ways of working are no longer just for tech. As constant change becomes the new normal, agile principles are transforming how organisations work. A recent report by the Agile Future Forum demonstrates that Agile working practices can lead to a 13% reduction in a company’s workforce costs. With a more extensive implementation, this could increase to 20% according to the report.

These findings are particularly relevant given the UK’s productivity gap with other EU nations and the US.  McKinsey recently reported that if the UK continues at its current rate it will be 32% less productive per hour worked than the US and Germany by 2025, and estimated that if the UK closed just half the productivity gap it would add an extra £400 billion per year to the economy by 2025. So any proven measures that can be adopted to help close this gap should be seized upon by business and encouraged proactively by Government.

Implementing Agile methodologies wholesale across an organisation is neither quick nor easy and should be thought of as a journey.

In this article, Paul O’Shea, CEO of Kumoco, the management consultancy that specialises in Agile working and cloud consulting, looks at how Agile organisations can respond rapidly to changes without losing momentum. Being agile means adopting a mindset of continuous improvement allowing your organisation to be nimble and deliver value often and fast. Companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon all follow an Agile approach.

Below we examine five issues that can hamper companies’ attempts to implement Agile and give some tips about how to address them.

  • Management must embrace, then drive the Agile agenda
  • Going Agile requires a cultural shift – it’s a journey, not a sprint!
  • Measure success: agree goals, milestones and metrics upfront
  • Pace yourself – start with pilots, then scale up as confidence and ambition grow
  • Train and mentor your staff

Management must embrace, then drive the Agile agenda

Management must drive the Agile transformation if it is to succeed. The senior team must be able to communicate the strategy and demonstrate that they themselves are becoming agile, without this, the teams will falter and return to old ways of working. At Kumoco, we believe that ‘Agility moves at the speed of management’ because the executive team is so critical to Agile’s success. If the senior management team has a strong understanding of the Agile ethos, continually drives change and becomes the evangelists, they will help to embed Agile thinking and practices effectively into their teams.

One of the best ways to achieve management buy-in is to provide managers with a workshop, then training and ongoing coaching that will prepare them for their Agile responsibilities. Consistent training across the organisation will ensure all employees share a common language.

Cultural foundations must be strong

Culture needs to be at the heart of every Agile transformation. Particularly in larger organisations, an Agile culture needs to be embraced across as many departments as possible. Sometimes this proves difficult, as shown by software platform VersionOne’s State of Agile survey. This revealed that 44% of respondents identified the inability to change the culture of their organisation as the biggest barrier to further Agile adoption.

For larger organisations seeking to adapt their working ethos, the first step is to evaluate honestly their current working culture. This will inform the changes needed to transform the organisation. In many cases, this means a transition from a silo mentality to empowered small cross-functional units allowing decisions to be delegated and issues resolved quickly.

Measure success

In order to evaluate their progress, teams need to agree a transparent method to assess the value delivered by Agile initiatives. The criterion to be measured should flow from the corporate vision. Even so, this is not an easy task; a 2017 global survey by the Scrum Alliance, a non-profit organisation in the Agile community, showed that for 41% of participants, measuring value was their greatest challenge. Measurement of value is normally made in two dimensions, that of the agile transformation itself, and that of each individual product.

In order for teams to correctly assess the value of a product, there should be regular reassessment. The metrics should be bespoke and relevant to the product and value should be measured not solely by financial gains but also on the true benefit gained by the customer.

At Kumoco, we are active members of a working group that is focused on reviewing how best to deliver agile in the workplace. Gabrielle Benefield, who previously led the role of Agile transformation at Yahoo! is the founding member. A key area the working group is reviewing is how to improve the assessment of measurable outcomes from implementing Agile.

Pace yourself – start with pilots, then scale up as confidence and ambition grow

It’s important to start small, demonstrating that the organisation can adopt agile ways of working and succeed. Choose a product or project and set it up for success by creating a cross functional team and providing experienced support and coaching to the team. Once the pilot demonstrates the value derived from agile methods, celebrate the success allow key team members to help evangelise the transformation. Invite pilot team members to make guest appearances at training sessions and project kickoffs.

The next step is to have a scaling strategy with the aim of ensuring that all new projects have the support required to ensure success with this new way of working. Embed in new teams some staff who have already been part of successful pilot projects. Consider setting up an Agile Community of Practice and a centre of excellence to guide new projects through the learning process.

Train and mentor your staff

The biggest mistake we see is taking existing project delivery staff and expecting them to be able to take on new Agile roles without prior experience. The roles of scrum master, product owner or kanban lead are significantly different to those of project or programme manager and require experienced hires to fill them. Whilst it is not expected that everybody on the team will have worked in an agile way before, it crucial that these key roles are filled by experienced hires and have coaching support.

It is important to develop an internal capability, and to ensure experience is retained. This means ensuring your staff are supported beyond the first few months. Two days of training and being part of an Agile team for three months does not give an individual the experience to lead and drive new projects; they still need ongoing coaching support to provide the full lifecycle experience required.

In summary, for Agile to be a success, it is a journey that your whole organisation needs to be part of. There must be be a clear vision and measurable outcomes to prove the transformation is working. A mindset of continuous improvement will allow you to quickly adapt as market conditions change.

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