Creating a culture of change with agile
Cross-functional teamwork - it's becoming more and more fashionable for the global market, and a key aspect of agile business, but what is its true value, and how can I make my team more agile?
By now, most business leaders are aware of the agile innovation teamwork model. They are small, entrepreneurial groups designed to adapt quickly to changing conditions and always have the customer in mind. When implemented correctly, the agile framework will transform not only business process in isolation, but also the organisational culture – the unseen or unspoken ways of working.
The new way of work is agile
Agile was originally designed in the early 2000s for single, small teams frustrated by software development that seemed to be going nowhere. Long lead times and inability to change decisions made earlier were roadblocks to progress, with complaints from both technical and creative experts about the future of computing.
The Agile Manifesto is a concise framework of four values and 12 principles dreamt up on the snowy alps of Utah by a collective of independent software thinkers, building on the ideas of a myriad of transformative agile values and principles in different applications. The Agile Manifesto made these ideas concrete, creating a system that makes agile easier to think about and apply at scale.
Control culture – value for predictability
Another way of work, one with established objectives and clear cute roles, is one of control. It arises from a cultural value of predictability. It can be seen in a clear hierarchy, of supervisors, directors, executives and other staff, each with a specific role and occupational status.
The control culture fits neatly into an organisational chart, with predictable projects, each one with own scope and schedule.
Yet the control culture poses problems for handling change. In fact, some organisational leaders are likely to be uncomfortable with change, which will limit how their business can handle uncertainty. No organisational model can predict or factor in the changes to the market.
This is where agile comes in. It is about the need for an alternative to document-driven, heavyweight software development processes.
Explaining their approach Jim Highsmith, software engineer and agile collaborator, acknowledges that it is scary and non-conventional as it directly counters “make-work and arcane policies”. Agile is about succeeding in the “new economy, to move aggressively into the era of e-business, e-commerce, and the web”. It’s about moving away from a fixed process mindset, and towards organisational models based on people, collaboration and communities in which we want to work.
Agile researchers recommend that essential to becoming more agile, operationally efficient and responsive to consumers, change must be seen as a competitive advantage – an opportunity that can be harnessed to perform goals ever more optimally.
The critical risk: roles of control cultures are built to push back against a mindset. Change will take effort and openness to new ways of work.
The Agile Manifesto
Agile Manifesto Values –
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
Agile Manifesto Principles –
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months with a preference to the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done – is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.
Powering operations and becoming people-centric
Increasing pressure to reduce cycle times, improve quality, and react swiftly to changing customer needs are driving companies, small and large, to adopt agile software. It’s a proven way of improving efficiency and quality. It also enables greater flexibility and shorter lead times.
Creating a shared workplace experience with specific roles enables team members to be aware of each others’ needs and proactively support each other, meaning better outcomes for all. Fast information flow or density fosters people who have shared thinking and usual ways of understanding. Findings of a study presented at a New Zealand conference of information systems found agile teams are most effective when they share a lot of information. In turn, this information sharing contributes to shared mental models and helping behaviours.
In an exploration by the Scrum Alliance, 80% of 2,000 respondents representing 91 countries and 27 industries reported agile – specifically the scrum methodology – improves quality of life. This offers powerful support for the agile framework which is focused on prioritising people.
How to get started
An agile culture is usually built best in specific projects. Also, people who have studied effective teamwork find that successful teams won’t just meet goals, they’ll also be involved in creating them, testing them and failing at them.
There are new roles for working in an agile world. Commonly associated with agile are the scrum roles. The product owner is responsible for managing the product backlog in the product development team, to ensure the team’s desired outcome gets achieved. The scrum master is responsible for ensuring the team lives the agile values and principles and enacts its processes and practices fully. The whole team forecasts and takes part in sprints to work on and complete specific product backlog items. These terms all belong to scrum, part of the early development of the agile mindset.
IT is at the forefront with agile, as ‘every company becomes a technology company’ in terms of both operations and how they solve problems for customers.
Yet international studies show a lot of teams fail with agile before they actually get started. Enterprise Services Manager for New Zealand cloud service provider network, Umbrellar, Sunny Lakhiyan, explains that the true value of agile has multiplied with Umbrellar’s expansion as it has become New Zealand’s hybrid cloud service provider, in partnership with Microsoft. “ Agile methodologies are not one size fits all. Most organisations trying to adopt an Agile culture are unsuccessful due to common pitfalls associated with adoption and successful implementation.”
“It all starts with cultural transformation to be able to design and adopt agile business processes.“
Whatever change is at hand with your company – whether you’re rolling out a new service or thinking about new technologies to adopt, the agile framework prompts us to remember that change is the only constant in life, and it can be harnessed in new and fundamentally powerful ways.
True, ‘going agile’ is not a small feat. It requires acceptance that you will fail, and sustained commitment to implementing, learning and improving continually. Thankfully, the principles are there, and there is no shortage of tools and technologies on hand to help us do it. The real question becomes – once we are sure agile is the way to go: which ones are the right fit?
The Agile Manifesto Principles and Values quoted here taken verbatim from Beck, K. and Beedle, M., 2001. Manifesto For Agile Software Development. [online] Agilemanifesto.org. Available at: <http://agilemanifesto.org> [Accessed 2 October 2020].
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