As many companies are beginning to move from traditional management to agile management to address business challenges, they should be aware, the process is a slow evolution. There are two principle benefits in implementing an agile business model both of which are equally important in encouraging business leaders to make the jump: speed and flexibility. Each have distinctive qualities and require trade-offs in the design, according to Greg Githens, a strategic thinking coach and author of the book, 'How to Think Strategically.'
Problems With Speed and Flexibility
He points out that one without the other — speed and flexibility — doesn’t really work. “You can design an incredibly fast organization, but it may not be very flexible. The organization and its employees can be very flexible, but they might be slower than others. You need to consider your organization’s strategy as you make investments in design of the organization’s workforce, talent and leadership,” he said.
The tools and practices of speeding up work are easier to identify. Many improvements to speed can be accomplished by identifying and removing “speed bumps” that are embedded within the organization’s structures and processes. There is a bit of a dilemma for small, rapidly growing companies in that they need to add structure and process so that they can find the efficiencies that enable them to scale their business model.
Flexibility is the bigger challenge for organizations, he added. It requires a recognition of the presence of ambiguity, rather than the more common neglect of ambiguity, and HR needs to provide people with tools for recognizing and coping with it. “People like to pick a best course of action and not deviate from it, even if the signals show there needs to be a change. Instead, they need be taught new methods that emphasize design, which sometimes means that you de-emphasize some common quantitative decision-making tools,” he said.
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Problems With Culture and Legacy Tech
Blair Hanley Frank, principal analyst at ISG, said research from his company shows that culture and legacy technologies are the biggest hurdles to adoption of agile within an enterprise. The former is a problem because no matter how much organizations say they want to be agile, the day-to-day practices of employees actually dictate their level of agility. “It’s critical for enterprises to get buy-in across the involved teams, from managers to the rank and file. As agile adoption proceeds, it's important for leaders to understand how the new way of working will impact all the functions of an enterprise,” he said.
Similarly, transformations are often hampered by old systems that prevent working in an agile manner. These may be enterprise systems of record that require projects be set up a certain way, or budgeting processes that are designed for waterfall projects with costs predicted and planned up front.
“These systems can't be changed overnight, often because they're currently responsible for running an enterprise's existing operations. But identifying the tensions that exist and figuring out how to fix or mitigate them will be key to success,” he added.
On top of all that, one of the biggest recommendations we've seen from enterprises that have already begun adoption of agile is to get started now. We recommend enterprises start implementing agile processes with a few small teams, learn from those experiments and tweak their approach and adoption in response.
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Knowledge and Understanding
There are a number of other issues companies looking to establish an agile process will face, which are primarily due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. Many companies adopt an agile management methodology for major initiatives without proper planning. Often times, management is ready to move, but the team who does the work on a daily basis is not ready.
With this quick-to-adopt approach, there is likely a failure to identify reasons and goals that clearly define why they are adopting the process, said Manoj Chaudhary, CTO and SVP of engineering at Jitterbit.
It's important for teams to define the reasoning behind the transition. Questions that need to be asked include: Is it (agile) to deliver products faster? Is it to empower the team? Is the current process not working? Without a clear understanding of why you want to take an agile management approach, there is a strong chance of failure. In order to overcome these obstacles, it is important to have an expert who can help get the agile methodology started.
He said that once the goals are defined and potential obstacles have been identified, all that remains is to convince teams that this is the right approach.
However, enterprises shouldn’t get too big with agile from the start. Pick a small project, to implement agile management, he said, and adjust as you go. It's important to understand that a strategy does not need to be perfect on day one and will take a few months to perfect.
Embrace a Collaborative Approach
One of the key traits of an agile organization is autonomy with alignment. Teams and middle-managers must have a degree of autonomy in deciding which projects will help them achieve the determined objectives and key results (OKRs). With that in mind, Andrew Filev, founder and CEO of Wrike, said that one of the first critical milestones is to create high-level company-wide objectives that teams can track their own activities around. Objectives should be sourced throughout the company, refined by senior management and visible across the organization so they can be used as a daily touchstone to measure activities and results against.
Ideally, agile management will reduce the time-to-value of projects and also improve their quality. “[However] if some senior managers can't loosen their grip on day-to-day prioritization of tasks and embrace a more collaborative approach, neither of those benefits will be fully realized because teams will continue to need to jump through the same administrative hoops to take actions,” he said.
This can be mitigated this through all-hands trainings and very clear, continuous internal communications that build cultural alignment on the purpose of agile management and the reason behind its implementation,” he said.
Becoming agile is far more evolution than revolution. In theory it sounds easy, but there needs to be commitment from the whole team as there’s a huge risk of reverting back to traditional management styles, said Nigel Davies, founder of digital workplace Claromentis.
“The only major downside — and it's far outweighed by the benefits — is sprint planning meetings can take up a considerable amount of time, which can feel quite unproductive,” he said. There are always times in the beginning when things seem slower or less productive and it is tempting to give up and go back to what you know. There is no trick to this other than perseverance and knowing that with time and effort your company can be agile.