by Thomas Rafflin
What is Agile?
Agile is a hot topic and a buzzword that has been used around for many years. You can continuously hear about it in conference rooms, workshops, and MeetUps all around the globe, especially related to software development topics. Depending on the context, it can refer to particular methods, organizational patterns or set of behaviors and mindsets. One way to see it is through a set of values and principles laid on paper and called the « Agile Manifesto for Software Development ». Its 4 core values are presented as followed:
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 to items on the right, we value items on the left more.
To give you a brief overview, its principles encompass concepts such as iterative work, self-organizing teams, increased communication within and outside the team, continuous improvement and customer-centered approach & much more. You can find the whole list on the Agile Manifesto website 1.
Agile outside of IT teams
Agile has been around for years – whether it is traced back to Toyota’s Lean principles in the 70’s 2, the Scrum framework in the 90’s 3 or its formalization in the Agile Manifesto in 2001, it is nothing new.
Today, it has become the standard way of working. With 94% of organizations declaring they are practicing Agile within their IT teams and 60% of people claiming that at least half of their teams are using Agile practices 4; who, today, can say they didn’t hear or are not practicing Agile?
I didn’t until 2 years ago when I started working in a startup. And a lot of people outside of the IT world have no clue what the hell Agile refers to.
Take a look at these State of Scrum infographics below:
Source: State of Scrum 2017 – https://www.scrumalliance.org/why-scrum/state-of-scrum-report/2017-state-of-scrum
Note for people not sure about what Scrum is: Scrum is the most popular Agile-related framework used to implement a holistic and iterative approach to product & service development. It has been formalized in its most widespread format by Ken Schwaber in 1995 through roles, ceremonies & artifacts that teams can adopt along with a set of values. In 2016, almost 9 out of 10 developers reported they worked with some form of Scrum.
So, in 2017, with only 21 % of Scrum projects run outside IT, areas like HReR reported using Scrum on 1/5 projects, a ratio far from the massive adoption in IT*. Agile is therefore not a standard and is being adopted slowly outside of IT (the same report showed 17% of projects outside of IT worked with Scrum the year before, a mere 4 points increase 5).
A reasonable question one can ask at this stage is: do we want Agile to spread outside of IT? Is there anything valuable for Marketing, Sales, HR or other business units of an organization in working Agile?
Does one need Agile outside of IT?
Most of the articles you will find over the web will tell you that, yes, Agile is deployable on the business side (understand « non-IT side ») and that it is a « should have » in many organizations.
I will support that not only it is a « must have » but that organizations that do not operate a complete switch to scaled Agile adoption (aka « Enterprise Agile ») will one day be faced with the choice of either changing or dying.
To argue this, let’s look at what leads IT teams & departments to adopt Agile in the first place:
Source: Version One’s State of Agile Survey 2016 – https://explore.versionone.com/state-of-agile
Reducing time to market, being more adaptive to change, making work more visible, increasing quality… do those sound like problematics confined to the IT world?
According to 82% of CEOs attending the David summit in 2017, their first concern is uncertainty in economics 6, making it the #1 problem shared by a sample of people representing very large organizations. Uncertainty reduces visibility for the future, making estimating & forecasting, the traditional way of managing an organization, irrelevant. Some other signs that uncertainty is on the rise: the duration of market leaders at the top of their industry has melted (it was 100 years in 1940 and is estimated to drop to 10 years in 2018 7), the customer loyalty to brands is strongly decreasing 8, the rise of startups disrupting whole industries in a time span of fewer than 10 years (e.g. Airbnb, Uber, Blablacar…) and many more. So how can you work on a 5 years business/financial plan if your market is unstable? How do you develop long-term sales strategy if a startup might disrupt your market at any moment? Why would you even try to predict what is unpredictable?
Since these trends are showing no signs of slowing down, addressing them becomes more and more urgent. An answer to these problems lies in one of the Agile Manifesto principles: rather than following a plan, prefer to be adaptive to change. The trends I discussed above are not confined to the IT area – they are global and are calling for a global answer: one of which is fully Agile organizations.
Building a case study: let’s do Agile in recruitment!
Scaling Agile is easier said than done. Which is why I would like to share with you our attempt, my team and I, to deploy it in an incongruous activity: recruitment. « Incongruous » not because recruitment is a queer activity but because I have heard of just very few examples of Agile being used in that particular department. There are a lot of Agile models I am fond of: Scrum, Kanban, Lean, DevOps, and Software Craftsmanship to name a few. Their principles can be applied very smoothly to a team of recruiters.
I am thus interested in discussing the successes we registered but also the fails we faced in the form of returns of experience. I hope it can be useful to teams that are undergoing their way towards Agile. I also want to address teams who didn’t consider using Agile before or are skeptical about the value it can bring. And finally, I hope to find other Agile-enthusiasts that can bring their expertise to the case studies I present, challenge the way we did it and maybe help us come up with creative solutions in order to make us all wiser in the process!
This article is an introduction made to understand our approach and our attention to the Agile Manifesto core values. We have come to adapt some of them so it would match our activity:
- Customer experience and candidate experience over processes and tools, rather than just “people and interactions” in the case of developers, our focus goes to our clients: our customers and our candidates in regards to the experience of recruitment we offer them.
- Completing recruitments over exhaustive CRM, the way the development team interacts with documentation is, to some extent, the same way a recruiter interacts with his CRM. It doesn’t mean a recruiter shouldn’t work with a CRM at all but rather that she or he should build information in it that provides value and doesn’t hinder the team’s progress. Our focus stays on finding the best person for the best part of our ecosystem.
- Business collaboration over job description refinement, in a development team as well as in a recruiting one, close collaboration with the customer is required. For recruiters, clients are their operational managers as well as their candidates. It requires in-depth knowledge, weekly interactions, and on-the-field presence to know about their reality & requirements of the job, not just a good understanding of a factual job description.
- Responding to change over following a plan, this one is perfect as it is: recruiters need to focus on responding to changing requirements in hiring priorities as fast as possible to adapt to their customer’s needs.
In a nutshell:
|Agile Manifesto for Software Development||Agile Manifesto for Recruitment|
|Individuals and interactions over processes and tools||CuX and CaX over processes and tools|
|Working software over comprehensive documentation||Completing recruitments over exhaustive CRM|
|Customer collaboration over contract negotiation||Business collaboration over job description refinement|
|Responding to change over following a plan||Responding to change over following a plan|
Although this is not the first Agile Manifesto for Recruitment out there, it is ours and embodies the values we believe in. This article is the 1st of a long list. I hope you’ll find as much interest reading as I’ll take pleasure writing them.
*It should be noted that this particular survey was answered by more than 2000 people, 70% of which are working in IT and half of the respondents working in the US and that the only Agile method surveyed is Scrum – perhaps not the most relevant to confront with the vision of a non-IT European talking about Agile as a whole. Nevertheless, the contrast with 89% of respondents reporting they work with Scrum show the existence of a gap in its adoption between departments and, in my own presumption, the same gap exists for Agile as a whole