Discover the benefits of the ‘Agile way of working’.
The Agiledirect framework
Agile is a way of working that enables individuals, teams and organisations to deliver customer-centred outcomes, faster, with less risk, at a lower cost, whilst remaining responsive to changing environments.
Experience has shown that using a framework can help orientate and optimally govern work that is being managed using Agile Principles / Practices. This is particularly so for large, complex initiatives (e.g. organisational restructures, and business process redesigns).
The phases outlined below are not necessarily executed in a linear manner as the many parts of a project are prone to different pressures and it is likely that the project will have multiple elements in different phases within its lifecycle. Of course, the Agile principles are always relevant and many of the practices are applicable regardless of the phase.
It is also useful to imagine each phase being concluded with a formal or informal go / no-go gateway. Making a go/no-go decision requires defining the criteria to assess whether the work has been sufficiently ‘done’ in order to warrant a ‘go’ to the next phase. The phases of our Agile Framework include:
- Idea Phase: The aim of this phase is to define the problem / opportunity.
- Discovery phase: The aim of this phase is explore the possibilities, assess options and refine the approach.
- Design Phase: The aim of this phase is to collaboratively develop a plan and identify the actions to create results.
- Deliver Phase: The aim of this phase is to do the work and deliver value.
Who uses Agile?
Agile is mostly known as a mindset and methodology for software development.
Since its inception, the Agiledirect team has personally done multiple projects and seen countless others where the Agile way of work has been successfully (…and unsuccessfully) applied to a range of business problems. These include projects for:
Small business and large enterprise
- Small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs): Smaller organisations usually embrace the responsive and flexible nature of Agile more readily than large corporates as SMEs are used to working in a way that is responsive to market pressures. SME's are often required to deliver products with less resources in order to stay relevant in a competitive operating environment.
- Large businesses and government: These organisations are increasingly facing challenges where they are required to manage complexity and competing priorities with reducing budgets and increasing compliance. Agile has a lot to offer in this regard. Having successfully delivered multiple projects (and a few ‘failures’ too), the Agiledirect team can proclaim with reasonable confidence that that the biggest limitation in this context is the mindset of the senior executive.
Projects and Business as Usual (BaU)
- Business Projects (that may or may not require software development): Agile is the latest culmination in the body of knowledge associated with project management. Although Agile is not a cure-all approach, its effective execution is dependent on the capability of the people involved. No doubt the evolution of the Agile principles and practices will continue although I believe Agile is distinguished from other approaches as the underpinning principles provide a platform that has the inherent flexibility to embrace continuous improvement and integrate change as required.
- Business as usual (BaU): Small work teams and business units have found significant benefit from approaching their work with using an Agile mindset. Regardless of whether the work is cyclical (e.g. day to day customer service) or one-off BAU (e.g. Disaster management) the Agile principles are applicable to ensure the requirements are used to focus and prioritise work.
Most executives, project managers and teams have encountered any number of the following issues:
- Customers changing their minds at the last minute
- Project teams constantly missing deadlines
- Projects blowing their budget
- Projects reporting progress but seem to never end
- Risks / issues being hidden from senior management
- Projects presented with ‘watermelon’ status - green on the surface but red to the core
- Too much to do and not enough resources to do it
- Stakeholders wanting more transparency into what is going on
- Products need to get to market faster
- Helping team members be more empowered to make decisions
We have seen these challenges all in manner of enterprises. And we have seen all manner of methodologies used to address these challenges with varying degrees of success. That is not to say that methodologies are no good. A methodical approach should be embraced where appropriate, but methods have poor acuity to maintain usefulness across different contexts and can lose relevance when presented with something out of the ordinary. Dealing with difference requires people to use their own judgement. This is where Agile presents something fresh. It is a principle based approach to inform the judgement of the individual who has to make value based decisions in order to delivers results.
Listed below are a few of the more specific business problems with an outline of a possible Agile response.
Issue: Benefits are not being realised as expected
- The business case / project plan was designed on flawed logic
- The business case / project plan was based on wishful thinking
- The business case / project plan proposed what was the most palatable thing that the writer was expected to say (or could get away with)
- Use the voice of the customer to define and prioritise work
- Get on with the work as certainty can only be increased after clarity is enhanced. Clarity generally comes from getting on with it.
- When work is commenced, it is frequently reviewed to determine what worked, what didn’t and what can be learnt
- Estimation and prioritisation is done iteratively to ensure that course corrections are frequent and small
Issue: The project is not delivering (over budget, over time, etc)
- The budget is insufficient
- The work breakdown is insufficient
- Risk / issue management is insufficient
- The voice of the customer is used to define the desired outcomes and benefits at the beginning of the project
- Features are identified and broken down into tasks that are assigned to an owner. This owner works collaboratively with the team to ensure work is assessed for priority, cost, benefit
- The team makes collective decisions to prioritise the work to ensure delivery of high business value early
- Velocity and performance is tracked to ensure estimations and resourcing are realistic
- Risks, issues and opportunities are tracked and managed by the project team on a daily basis
Issue: The customer isn't happy
- Quality / variation is excessive
- The requirements are unclear
- The customer keeps changing their mind
- The team collaborates daily to ensure they are working on the right things and risks / issues are being managed accordingly
- An iterative approach is used to refine the product
- Showcases are regularly held to demonstrate outputs to customers
- Change is expected (and welcomed) by the project team
- Effort is focussed on delivering value not following a plan
Issue: Team morale is low
- Poor sponsorship
- Lack of engagement
- Insufficient enablement
- Roles and responsibilities are collaboratively defined with expectations being made clear to all involved in the project
- A social charter is developed by the core project team to clarify the ground rules for working together
- The team is encouraged and trusted to self-organise to decrease risk and increase job satisfaction
Where do I start?
Before ostensibly applying the Agile way of work, it's best to take the time to fully appreciate your circumstances and better understand your operating environment. It's also helpful to understand the nuances of the problem and your motivations. For example:
- Why do you want to adopt an Agile approach?
- What’s in it for you / the customer?
- Is there an appetite or tolerance to use a 'different' (e.g. Agile) approach?
- How clear are you about the problem (or opportunity) that warrants using an Agile approach?
- What does the customer (e.g. management, end user) think about this?
- What will others in the business (e.g. Risk / Audit / Finance) think about this approach?
If you explore your responses to the questions above and believe that an Agile approach would add benefit, then there are a few things that you can do:
- Go and find someone who is being / doing Agile and ask them about it.
- Ask to join a project team or community of practice who is using Agile
- Find an Agile coach
- Go and do a course or read a book
- Have a go yourself
To find out more, check out the FAQs or have a look at our Agile Toolkit.