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Making Agile work for you

“We told our specialists exactly what we wanted, but it did not work. Agile working is just not for us.” This is the painful message we hear from clients on a regular basis. Implementation of an Agile way of working goes wrong in most organizations when scaling up. They then end up falling back to standardization, processes and micro-waterfalls. But in order to be successful in working agile, you have to keep prioritizing agility. Keep telling your employees ‘what’ needs to be delivered, but not ‘how’.

30 October 2018

Enhancing enterprise agility

Many organizations have experimented with agile and there are many reasons to move towards an agile way of working:

  • Shortening the time-to-market through early delivery and shorter development cycles
  • Gaining focus through prioritization and ‘getting things done’
  • Enhancing predictability of delivery when designing product functionality
  • Improving attention to product quality in early stages of development, and getting early feedback
  • Increasing employee satisfaction by making work more rewarding and fun

Typically a department moves to the new way of working, communicating in a high impact visual and inspiring way; team members are asked to join sprint reviews and achievements and successes are widely reported. Seeing the success and transparency in one area of the business, other departments jump on to the bandwagon or are sometimes asked by leadership to do so. However, the organization wide changes end up being implemented without structure, overall vision or an agile coach. Coordination between teams and departments is hard as they struggle with different priorities, maturities, dependencies, processes, scaling issues etc. 

Choosing the right Agile framework

One of the best starting points to resolve these issues is to start with existing scalable Agile frameworks where best practices are gathered and structured. The most commonly known frameworks are SAFe, LeSS, Nexus and the Spotify model. Every framework has its own strengths and focus areas which can match an organization on different parameters. For example: the market, competition, size, employee composition, processes, activities and most importantly the culture of the company.  An important step towards successful implementation therefore lies in picking the framework that is best suited to the needs and ambitions of the organization. 

In order to enhance acceptance of Agile workways by all business stakeholders and employees, concessions are made, which results in the ‘company’s Way of Working’ where standardized processes and procedures are created and applied to all different departments within the entire organization. Forcing standardized processes and procedures to Agile teams with different activities in different domains is a big challenge in organizations.

Focus on the ‘what’ instead of the ‘how’

In general, teams used to working within the waterfall or standardized processes are clear about the ‘WHAT’ that needs to be done to contribute to the organizational goals, but also ‘HOW’ it needs to be done. It is this approach that is in contradiction with one of the underlying principles of the Agile Manifesto, which states the following:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done”. 

If you want employees to be motivated and high performing, do not tell them ‘how’, just tell them ‘what’. Trust the teams that they are capable of finding the an effective way of working. If teams are self-organizing, they will find ways to solve issues and impediments, both inside and outside the team. As Steve Jobs once said: It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”. 

If people feel pressured on both the WHAT and the HOW, they will lose commitment and motivation to achieve their goals and fall back on traditional behavior. This is when we often hear - ‘agile working is just not for us’. Of course, it is a huge change for teams to become self-organizing and it takes time to accomplish goals. Delivery might slow down at first before it picks up and starts to exceed original velocity, and ironically it is at this moment that leadership usually tightens procedures instead of solving root causes and giving time to teams to transition to the agile way of working. The organization is made to fall back to a Command & Control structure, setting clear processes, boundaries and deadlines and hence in effect removing agility. An example of this behavior is observed when an organization has strict governance with multiple sign-offs by stakeholders both pre- and post-delivery. 

In light of the above, organizations should take time to focus on implementing a framework of the WHAT activities related to achieving organizational goals. It helps to set-up departments and value streams with their own purposes (in line of course with the purpose of the organization) to deliver customer value as independently as possible. Trust the professionals in your teams to solve HOW they will implement these activities. Organizations can do this by striving for a learning environment where it is safe to experiment and fail in order to learn and share outcomes with other teams. Provide a platform where people and teams can collaborate and communicate these experiences and ask for help, and the organization will get the high-performing cross-functional teams that is focused on maximizing business value.

More information?

Deloitte helps with agile coaches to facilitate this transformation, to scale to the enterprise and keeping it on track. Want to know more? Please do not hesitate to contact us through the contact details below.

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