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Encouraging organisational agility for continued team buy-in

In an environment where project work requires iterative and incremental development of valuable products in short sprints, a lightweight framework that places individuals over tools, focuses on working technology over comprehensive documentation, values customer collaboration over contract negotiation and welcome changes as requirements evolve, is of absolute importance. That summarily, is The Agile Framework. Although, the agile method was a response to a quest on how to run software projects effectively in a way that allows development teams to adapt changes to recent requirements rather than following a plan (as in the more traditional waterfall methodology), it can be applied to other management activities, regardless of the industry. To align conventional project management with the needs of more technical types of project, the exponents of agile methodology put together, four guiding principles (not rules or formal processes) known today, as The Agile Manifesto. The values of this manifesto are very specific and simply stated without a need for expatiation.

Agile, in the first of its four central tenets, prioritizes individuals and interactions over processes and tools. That is, while we ascribe value to organisational processes, tools and maybe techniques, we value individuals and their interactions more. This is in sharp contrast with the staunch best practices found in heavier methodologies that most organizations are used to. Think about this. Without interactions, the processes and tools do not always work. It is time organisations focused on collaboratively delivering value to customers on time, rather than placing restrictions on creativity and innovation because certain laid down processes and tools must be followed and used respectively.

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Agile allows the development team to evolve experimentally. That is, employees can attempt new methods, make mistakes, learn from them, improve and move on without anyone blaming them for it. In fact, team members must be as free as to come up and say, “we have toed this path over and over without result or with inadequate results, we need to step out and do agile”, and it does not matter who on the hierarchy said this.

The second guiding principle of the agile manifesto places premium on working software (valuable product) over comprehensive documentation. This is the primary measure of progress. If the product does not work, excessive documentation that characterizes up-front-planning methods amounts to waste. Responding to changes over following a heavily documented plan (fourth focus of the agile manifesto), is a very important principle of agile. The value is seen in a product that meet business requirements and conform to technical specifications, and not in the setting and documentation of baselines and hard due dates that will change as the project evolve.

Because we get to work after a short planning session devoid of excessive documentation, mistakes are made quickly, corrections are made quickly, changes are responded to and adapted quickly, impact on project cost and schedule are minimised or controlled easily, the processes are modified quickly, employees learn constantly, and collaboratively, everyone improves for the benefit of the project and overall fulfilment of organisational objectives. This is called “Failing Fast”. Why waste days (even months depending on the project size) documenting a rigid plan when requirements will change as project progresses? Why do we not focus on delivering value in short increments, adapting changing requirements as they evolve. Why do we not simply plan at the ‘last responsible time’?

In an agile methodology called scrum, the development team, which is self-organising, work out the best way to achieve every portion of the entire work. They pick what they can accomplish within a set time. Oh! Did you just think “they determine the volume of work they can accomplish per time?” Well, not just that! Members of this cross-functional team with different knowledge and skill levels, have no distinct titles. They are usually called “developers”. “Though we have testers, business analysts and quality assurance experts among us, we are all developers!” An agile team manages its own work, evolving its approach at any time to better meet changing needs. This is geared towards building a sense of ownership, bolstering shared vision, retaining buy-in among team members and ultimately keeping focus on delivering valuable products.

A load of available statistics has shown that agile mind-set is settling with businesses globally, and Nigerian companies should dive in early. In a recent survey sponsored by CA Technologies, three-quarters of IT and business executives admitted that agile methodologies have the potential of delivering the right products and services, accelerating decision making and speed to market, while also improving the customer experience and staying ahead of competition (Source: Harvard Business Review). Eighteen percent of the companies surveyed, later called The Agility Masters, do not only practice agile development, they have incorporated agility throughout their organisations; from research and development to sales and marketing, production and operations and even HR and finance. The agility masters were found to be 4.1 times more likely to have the right vision and strategy, and 2.3 times more likely to have a culture of supporting risk. They are 2.3 times more likely to provide training for continuous skill development and 2.9 times more likely to have teams skilled in the latest tools and trends.

The big deal is, they are also achieving 60 percent higher revenue and profit when compared to organisations that have only gone agile in part. According to Gartner in a July 28, 2017 publication, by 2030, artificial intelligence will automate 80 percent of routine agile work. KPMG reported that 76 percent of businesses in the Netherlands and Belgium believe that agile projects will outnumber waterfall projects by 2020. Atlassian surveyed and concluded that 50 percent of team members are motivated more by team success than the company’s (27 percent) or individual’s (23 percent) personal goal. Remember! Individuals and interactions (the team) over processes and tools.

Managers should go agile by encouraging team members to collaborate and work together to lower risks around knowledge silos (hoarding of knowledge) and reduce bottlenecks. Emergent leadership is also encouraged within the team by establishing a safe and respectful environment in which innovative approaches can be tried, to make room for improvements and foster self-organization and empowerment. In such a robust, yet lightweight approach, projects are built around motivated individuals who have the needed support and trust to get the job done. Unlike the rigid detailed up-front planning style of delivery, agile processes harness changing requirements, even late in development, for the customer’s competitive advantage. Organisations that will stay afloat competition in this highly innovative age, must go agile. This is the crux of the matter!

 

SEGUN AKANDE

Akande wrote via segunolaakande@gmail.com

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