ARE YOU READY FOR AN AGILE BUSINESS?

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1 ARE YOU READY FOR AN AGILE BUSINESS? WILL AGILE PLAY A PART IN YOUR BUSINESS FUTURE? TERRA FIRMA, APRIL 2013 So you, or your senior leadership team, CEO or company board have decided that the only way to face the future is to adopt Agile. It s a buzzword; it s the mark of a forward-thinking organisation; it s the epitome of flexibility and efficiency; and most of all, it might be the only way for some organisations to survive and compete in a fast-moving world. But - what does it mean, exactly? How do you know Agile is the right thing for your organisation? And if you decide it is, what next? We have produced this white paper to guide your strategic analysis before you embark on any organisational change centred around adopting an Agile philosophy and practices. The aim of this paper is to help you decide whether an Agile future will actually suit you and your organisation, and then give you some guidance on how to start the process. FIRSTLY, WHAT IS AGILE? If you are not familiar with Agile at all, we recommend you do some background reading. A good place to start is the Agile Manifesto and its guiding principles: It is important to note that there is no definitive understanding of what Agile is; in fact there is still much debate around the basic philosophy of Agile and what it encompasses as it continues to evolve. There s a broad base of information available out there from experts in software development, project management, business Terra Firma Pty Ltd Page 1

2 modelling and business analysis, you are sure to find a wealth of information to draw upon in an area that most interests you. If you are looking for more than reading material, finding a local Agile discussion group is a great idea. Most major cities will have one or more communities that are free to join, with various levels of experts and learners in regular conversation about Agile, what it means to them and how they express it in their work. At a high level, Agile is an approach that originated in the software development world. It describes a preference for a balance between the quality and speed of an outcome through a responsive and consultative process, over excessive processes, documentation and ceremony and so on. As the name suggests, a key element is the ability to do things fast, and to change direction whenever it s required to achieve the desired outcome. To succeed, it has to be underpinned by constant and effective communication and collaboration between all involved it can be regarded as the implementation of a talking culture. The Agile manifesto sums it up. We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan That is, while there is value in the items on the right [i.e. the bold statements], we value the items on the left more. - Please note that the phrase developing software can be easily replaced with tangible goal, if this provides a better definition for your business. When you read the manifesto, you can begin to visualise how it could apply to many or all of your business processes. In fact, you may already have pockets of Agile activity in your organisation. Terra Firma Pty Ltd Page 2

3 HOW TO PROCEED - CHANGE THE CULTURE OR CHANGE THE PROCESS? An organisation that is already displaying the characteristics of being Agile may naturally evolve to that state without any sign of upheaval because their culture is already Agile. It may be that an already nimble company has a senior leadership team that trusts its staff or is willing to risk lower priority work in order to experiment with different methods and team dynamics. They may be less concerned about the processes and more focused on the outcomes for some projects, or see that a quick win may be gained if they loosen the management reins a little. Does this sound like your senior team? Or it may be happening bottom up instead of top down. If the Agile mentality is already cropping up in some areas of your organisation, you might notice that small teams are already displaying the ability to be self-reliant and high-performing, perhaps experimenting with lighter processes, and naturally becoming self-managing and self-organising. In these cases, as successful delivery occurs, the organisation experiments on larger projects with bigger budgets and higher profiles. And so it goes on until the organisation, without any hand-wringing and deliberation, is Agile and loving it. However, the transition is not that easy for everyone. In the case of large, more complex, tiered organisations, moving to Agile for the whole business is akin to getting a high-speed, fully-loaded, very expensive train to change course, and committing to do so frequently, without derailing. This is where the culture versus process discussion is important. The basis of the Agile way of working, has its foundation in values. Is your organisation seeking a better way to ensure quality and meet the needs of its customers? Does it have an appetite to change and want to focus on continuous evolution in order to become a high performing organisation? If your answers to these questions are both yes, then your culture is ripe for change to an Agile culture. Terra Firma Pty Ltd Page 3

4 Adoption of Agile should never be embarked upon lightly. It is usually expensive, as it requires a dedicated program and team to enact the change. It is also emotional; it causes disruption as some may feel the change is a personal criticism of their previous or current performance. Those who prefer the traditional processes may be detractors and resist the change; others may fear for their future with your organisation. It is an unsettling surprise for employees when an organisation that has never demonstrated agility in any of its business processes or management style suddenly decides that the projects they run will now be Agile and adopt a Scrum, XP, Lean, Kanban, etc. framework or any combination of these. This presents a difficult change journey for staff. Some organisations quarantine the Agile implementation to projects, and still expect staff to operate in the old rigid framework for everything else. This process-based approach will compromise the change and often leads to real or perceived failure. Trying to become Agile by merely changing processes will not achieve your objectives. You might be doing Agile, but you are not being Agile. What s the difference between 'doing' and 'being' Agile? Well, we 'do' the cooking, while we 'be' a chef, for example. 'Being' is personal; it s based on a deep sense of what we believe in, it's a full commitment. When we are 'being' something, we are invested in the outcomes and more determined to succeed because we know the outcomes reflect us. An organisation needs to adopt a people culture of 'being' rather than 'doing' before adopting Agile as part of its work culture. Terra Firma Pty Ltd Page 4

5 OKAY, WE RE SURE WE WANT TO BE AGILE, NOW WHAT? Well, there s nothing like road-testing before investing, so let s go back to the Agile manifesto for guidance on adopting Agile. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Take it to the people. Consult with your staff, at all levels, before, during and after the adoption. Keeping up a dialogue will ensure that the culture you are looking to instil is being demonstrated and practiced as soon as possible from the most senior people in the organisation. Communication can take all forms but the best is face-to-face and often. Be accountable and informative; after all, it's what you will be expecting your staff to do on a daily basis from now on. Working software over comprehensive documentation Again, replace the word software with something tangible and more meaningful if you need to, and start delivering. The earlier you see results, the easier it is change, grow and adapt through constant reinforcement. Failing can still be a win; at the very least you have discovered something that will not work. At best, a new discovery is made along the way and valuable experience is gained. Failures are road signs instructing you to stop, give way and examine what is happening. You have the opportunity to confirm that the organisation needs to be Agile. Or perhaps your organisation s examination of its failures will highlight that Agile is not what your organisation needs and it's a roundabout that will take you back to where you came from! Customer collaboration over contract negotiation An Agile culture is about trusting and being trusted. As mentioned previously, it s also about communication. And these principles apply to customers as well as staff. This is what makes most organisations retreat and consider hybrid or half-way Agile practices, but hybrid Agile adoptions are built on conditional relationships and are not sustainable. Keeping trust and making sure it's healthy requires daily rigour. Terra Firma Pty Ltd Page 5

6 Maintaining a dialogue, collaborating at all levels and delivering often is the best way to keep trust healthy and at the forefront of all business interactions. Trust goes both ways. As an organisation, be trustworthy and expect it from your staff and customers; they will respect you, the organisation and each other for it. Responding to change over following a plan Planning is important. We need to know as an organisation where the future lies and the major milestones that will deliver success in this new Agile world. Just as important is knowing when to deviate, alter slightly or completely change course on the way to our end state. Being presented with new information, an early failure or an unexpected discovery are all opportunities to reassess and change course. It requires personal courage, and must be part of the culture in the smallest or largest of endeavours. Waiting too long to see if an initiative is working or, at the other end of the spectrum, jumping the gun can both have negative consequences, so the trick is to be able to get the timing of your response right. Implementing lots of small changes in direction (like the incremental changes in direction you make when steering a car) instead of a few big changes (don t pull suddenly on the steering wheel!) means your response is more likely to lead to ongoing, sustainable success. Being practiced in reviewing and altering small things often during your Agile adoption will ensure that the big impacts happen less often and when they do, they will be on your radar much earlier. Terra Firma Pty Ltd Page 6

7 Finally, the manifesto is not complete without this statement. That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. Don t forget that there are times when it is appropriate to employ processes and tools, to follow a plan, to document, and to negotiate contracts. Just don't let it be your first position. Encourage your organisation and people to seek the collaborative, interactive, tangible and responsive path more often and you will see your organisation and its people make a cultural shift that is Agile and loving it. AUTHOR: Adelaide Greenaway CONTACT US If you require assistance with your Agile initiatives, Terra Firma can help. Our experienced consultants can guide you through analysis, consultation and implementation. Contact us today on: Contact us today at

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