THREE THINGS I HAVE LEARNT FROM AGILE

THREE THINGS I HAVE LEARNT FROM AGILE

  • Ivon Evlogieva, Senior Consultant
  • Published: 12 March 2019

It has been really encouraging to see clients adopt an Agile way of working; from using Agile methodologies to even tailoring it to meet the goals of an organisation. However, the ‘softer’ features of Agile are positive too – such as the behaviour and environment it encourages. These can be applied anywhere. Read how your organisation can implement them too:

1. Fail fast and fail often

Traditionally, failure is seen as a negative thing, but I think it should be encouraged, supported and I would even go as far as saying celebrated. Some of the biggest advancements and lessons learnt have come from such failures. Famous examples include WD-40, whose formula was perfected on its 40th attempt and Bubblewrap which was unsuccessful in its original purpose of wallpaper.

Failure may be hard to accept in a regulated environment such as financial services, but I would say that managed failure can actually be used to mitigate risk. Generally, the earlier it occurs, the less damage it can cause and the more useful the lessons can be.

What do I mean by managed failure? In Agile, we try to ‘time-box’ these occasions. We deliver work in short sprints and we use retrospectives to go over what went well, what didn’t go so well and discuss what we can change going forward. In this way, failure is constrained to that specific segment, rather than to a whole delivery and relevant changes can be made immediately.

So how can we implement this?

Foster an environment where failure is acceptable – encourage your teams to take managed risks and learn from them. Make acceptance of failure a part of the culture. You could even take this further and have ‘rituals’, with a regular time slot to discuss occurred failures and the changes that need to be made as a result.

2. Collaborate far and wide

Agile teams are made up of members with different skillsets who work together for a common goal, despite perhaps representing different disciplines. This way, actions are taken quicker rather than a team working in isolation.

Combining different skillsets together, even if they seem completely unrelated, can also lead to innovation and knowledge sharing. For example, what do a restaurant and a factory have in common? At first glance, very little. However, an observation of a conveyor belt in a brewery led to the first conveyor belt restaurant.

How can we implement this?

We don’t need to wait for a big change to apply this mindset. It can be implemented immediately, in small steps. At the next team meeting, invite people outside your immediate team. The one after that, reach out to the wider organisation and a completely new area – ask them what problems they face and how they resolve them. There may be something in there which can be adapted to your own teams and situation.

3. Give people a voice

This is linked to the previous point. Agile tends to operate in flat structures, and people are empowered to voice an opinion. This can be invaluable, especially when something is going wrong and you need people to speak up about it.

A flat organisational structure may not always be possible or suitable, however some lessons can be taken forward. I have seen companies embark on change programmes, where tooling is being replaced, but the decision is made by the senior technology team without consulting the junior analysts using the tools day-to-day. This is a waste of knowledge and can lead to substandard solutions. Getting those members involved in the discussion early on and making use of their skills will make them feel more valued and ultimately, make a greater impact.

How can we implement this?

Create an open platform for discussion. Engage with people from all levels of the organisation and arrange dedicated sessions with a sample of people across the company. If that seems uncomfortable, perhaps provide a way to share anonymous feedback.

Embarking on an Agile transformation can be daunting which is why adopting small changes step by step can help organisations become more comfortable and prepared for the journey of change.

If you want to learn more about Agile, contact Robert Ord.