With business under perpetual pressure to achieve goals and satisfy ever-changing customer needs, companies need to engage in agile project implementation to be able to stay ahead of the curve. But how is this achieved? Perhaps a good place to start is to understand the term “agile”.
Quickness, cleverness, sharpness, swiftness, dexterity, celerity, sprightliness, adroitness, expedition, fleetness, dispatch, liveliness, alacrity, suppleness, acuteness, promptness, activity, alertness, promptitude, briskness.
Dictionary.com has 2 definitions:
- The power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness
- The ability to think and draw conclusions quickly, intellectual acuity.
Why the Need for Agility
As words related to agility continue to espouse speed, intellect, and responsiveness, more and more businesses are using this term in their boardrooms. The need for speed and response is ever growing and is putting pressure on all aspects of business. This results in considerable stretch of their capabilities both from a human capital perspective as well as from a technological perspective.
Our average customers demand speed and response. They do not see your sector any differently to the pizza delivery app, or the ride hailing app. They want you to be as responsive, open and transparent as a start–up.
Stating that your customers want it their way, and they want it now often make boardrooms nervous. This is especially the case when dealing with large infrastructure that is dated, employees that have seen every new term and phrase possible over the last couple of years, and are fatigued by engagement strategies that fail to offer them legitimate, honest and rewarding engagement, as well as aging products and service that are being disrupted daily.
“Agile Project Delivery is a value-driven approach that can give organisations the capacity to deliver high-priority, high quality work and create lasting meaningful relationships with their stakeholders and customers. It ensures the delivery of products through disciplined, proven practices and allows for adjustments based on continuous stakeholder and customer feedback, thereby increasing speed to market.” PWC – Agile Project Delivery Confidence Article, 2017.
Agile was developed in 2001 by 17 software developers as a methodology for driving successful project delivery and is underpinned by four key themes as illustrated below:
People vs Process & Tools
Working prototypes vs Excessive Documentation
Customer collaboration vs rigid contracts
Responding to change vs following the plan
If agile is a new way of working for your business and your insights partner does not understand the need and speed of the insights you need, perhaps it is time to explore new relationships.
But before you go the external route, you can start internally by sensitising the business to what is needed and how to approach it
Tips for Agile Implementation
Insight #1 – Define what agile means for your organisation
This is a critical step in your journey and one that will guide and drive your project outcomes. Like all good strategies, if it is not clearly articulated you will end up with a myriad of results, some good, some not so good, largely dependent on the teams that are tasked with delivery. Agile is not just about 2-week sprints and a scrum master. How to prioritise your projects is critical and very often the business priorities take preference over customer priorities. Involve the CX and your Research/Insights teams so they can drive the priority from the customer perspective.
Insight #2 – Explain WHY the change is needed
Human programme fatigue is a real and dangerous part of large & legacy businesses. It is also completely understandable because employees have been driven through numerous programmes that have had varying results.
Perhaps in the past you would be told that HR, or Operations has launched a new programme and that everyone should get behind the initiative. This often without really understanding why the programme was launched or what the intended outcome was. It was then launched and at some point, fizzled out.
Driving real engagement around why the change is needed and how this new approach will revolutionise your business is part of the leadership team’s responsibility. Failure of staff understanding the “why,” will result in them not getting onboard.
Insight #3 – Use story telling
Who doesn’t love a good story? I know I am a sucker for a story that resonates and drives an emotion of some description. Use real life stories to illustrate why agile is needed: Why the existing approach cannot continue and how agile can be used to help your business succeed in the extremely fast paced world.
Show examples of companies that ideate quickly & efficiently. Show how they have gone to market far quicker, and with greater success. Illustrate how your business is being eaten away at – not to create fear, but to create a healthy awareness that competitors don’t always come from your industry, but they often come from outside.
Use examples wherever you can. Personal examples are great as most people can associate with a real environment.
Insight #4 – Habits are hard to break
Suppose you have been driving a right-hand drive car and a gear stick for 10 years and are then told to switch to a left-hand drive automatic. Chances are, you will feel a little lost. Even if you are driving on the same stretch of road, navigating to a destination you have done hundreds of times before. More often than not, your left hand will look for a gear stick for a while and your left foot won’t know what to do with itself! This illustration is simply to ask you to be patient with your teams whilst they grapple with a new way of working.
According to University College London, creating a new habit takes 66 days on average, with a low average being 18 days and a high being 254 days! Neuroscientist, Elliot Berkman goes on to say that “long-time habits are literally entrenched at the neural level, so they are powerful determinants of behaviour”
Reward when it is done right, and guide when you end up on the wrong side of the road, going in the right direction!!
Insight #5 – Collaboration is really tough
As a species we work well in natural teams and our instincts to defend and promote our team is very strong. Throw back to when you were at school and you had “house-teams”. Absolutely under no circumstances would you be found shouting for the opposing team, even though you all went to the same school. The same applies to Silos or Departments in a business.
The underlying key to agile is that term that everyone is throwing around “collaboration.” Building real eco systems for business to thrive in takes a great deal of collaboration and teamwork. If you have not been in a business that easily & fluidly collaborates, this will be a struggle.
Teaching collaboration is not always easy. An HBR article titled “How to capture value from collaboration, especially if you’re sceptical about it” states that a key element in getting collaboration right is fundamentally understanding what collaboration is, and what it isn’t. They explain that collaboration is primarily the attraction and involvement of people outside of ones formal control or company, and expertise to accomplish common goals. https://hbr.org/2017/05/how-to-capture-value-from-collaboration-especially-if-youre-skeptical-about-it
Collaboration is tough because it is filled with mistrust, high expectations and lack of clarity around the process, ownership and outcome. Ensuring there is transparency around what is required and “why,” tends to put the team players at ease.
Insight #6 – Flexibility
As your teams become more agile you are going to need to be both flexible and responsive to bottle necks and priority changes. Good project management skills are needed to ensure the team is kept motivated and driven – irrespective of any changes in priority or delays due to unforeseen bottle necks or challenges.
Insight #7 – Risk
Risk is inherently high in fast turnaround projects. Involving your risk and compliance teams in the agile teams upfront will reduce bottlenecks and complete projects stops. Remember the keys pillars to driving agile are not focussed on excessive documentation or restrictive process by nature, so to ensure that everyone is “singing from the same song” you need to bring the risk and compliance teams along for their expertise and responsiveness.
Insight #8 – Agile in isolation
Agile in isolation is a risk in itself. Having incredibly functional, productive teams, working seamlessly to design, develop and iterate is the key. However, if the remainder of your business is still stuck in over complex, waterfall type approaches to development, you will run into difficulties keeping the process alive. Ensure that all supporting development teams are included in your approach and can dove-tail into your process. The end result ensures that the whole business delivers, and not just the agile teams.
Insight #9 – Agile shouldn’t be a label
In the last couple of years, hybrid–Agile approaches have been developed. While we agree that you need to find the best way of working in your business due to its unique complexities and challenges, keep in mind the 4 key principals of Agile and the very foundation of moving at speed. Do not fall into the trap of lapsing into the old way of work and labelling it Agile.
Insight #10 – Test, test, test and test again
The image below is perfect for illustrating the concept of evolution through an Agile approach. The premise of Agile is that one goes to market with MVP (minimum viable product) and this is tested & iterated until you have a very good working product that requires occasional testing and iteration.
M Sweeney, Agile vs Waterfall: Which method is more successful? Dec 4, 2014, Clearcode
Insight #11 – Realise when it’s not working
Agile is not for everyone, nor every situation. Not every team member can “do” agile well, and even if trained and organised they simply get flustered with the seeming incompleteness, or struggle with the collaborative aspects.
Recognising this quickly can help you reduce a great deal of frustration for both the team leads and the team members who may be feeling like they are carrying an uncooperative member. Removing them from the team should be your last resort. If however, it needs to be done to ensure the remainder of the team can perform, then it may be considered. I am not advocating that you remove them entirely. Perhaps look for support roles they can play. Remember not everything needs an agile approach. Ensuring that the team lead is clear on project objectives is imperative.
Insight #12 Customers are key
Designing and developing in an agile space is all about customer collaboration. Designing and developing key customer interaction points and methods of collection of insight on customers is critical. Teams can get lost in the process and start to assume or infer what customers might want based on their own experiences and preferences. This should be avoided at all costs. Gather insight, understand what you are designing for, test and iterate constantly to ensure that with each release customers are involved and are designing with you. Don’t lose sight of the core reason for the project.
Insight #13 – Share all the successes
Set up a team responsible for sharing the agile success stories – why? Because by sharing you can keep the methodology alive. Share the fails too. Find the humour in why it went wrong and ask the team to use another process – design thinking – to ideate on how to get it right. Remember a team is as strong as its weakest link. Taking the whole team on a journey needs energy and effort.
Insight #14 – Show Executives your success
They care about the numbers. Measure and report on everything.
According to PMI’s 2017 pulse of the profession study, “A full 71 percent of organizations report using agile approaches for their projects sometimes, often, or always.” When agile is implemented and adopted well by businesses, it has a fundamental impact on the success of project delivery and can truly transform your company.
There are several studies that indicate that an agile approach can deliver substantially better results than that of a waterfall approach, with PWC claiming up to 28% better results. Agile is more than a simple programme or methodology. By its very nature, it transforms business behaviour into a more collaborative approach, and as the name suggests, speed of response.
Interact RDT have a team of highly experienced, agile and vibrant associates that fully appreciate the challenges of this decade. We are well known for our speed, accuracy and deep insight. Reach out if you need some guidance or assistance, we are always ready to partner.
About the Author
Janette Fiander is the CX Lead at Interact RDT. She is a qualified CCXP, and a member of the CXPA. Janette is not only passionate about Customer Experience as a discipline, but more so, the very real returns CX drives for businesses. This is the age of accelerated change, driven by customers, employees and the environment. Future proofing your business is no longer about playing catch up. It is about partnering with the right team who can co-create the future with you.