By Arie Van Bennekum
‘Agile’ is one of the most commonly used terms in management this year. Moreover, it is a typical office buzzword which surpasses its goal by the excessive use of it. As a result, undergoing an Agile transformation recently is the exception rather than the rule. Fact is, implementing a successful Agile transformation remains difficult. The recognition for change grows, as well as the necessity for full service delivery, in which all stakeholders are equally involved in the same process in order to create better business value more rapidly. But how can organizations achieve this? And for which factors do organizations need to adjust their Agile practices? I take Agile in retrospect by pointing out the most important Agile developments of last year and give my vision on the most important trends for the upcoming year.
What happened in 2017?
The need for working Agile is very clear nowadays. Within the market there is a common need for co-creation and the number of requests of organizations that want to undergo the Agile transformation increases rapidly. New technologies and innovations evolve quickly, hence it is important that organizations are able to deliver products fast. Are you as an organization not able to respond to innovations now and in the future? Then you will have a hard time surviving…
Working Agile is developing for quite a while now. The rise of alternatives to the traditional sequential (consecutive) approach, dates back decades ago. In 1990 a few experts further deepened into different working methods. With seventeen experts we shared all our experiences that when combined formulated the Agile Manifesto. You can read more about this in this blog. In the Netherlands DSDM was widely applied in the second half of the nineties. Shortly after writing the Manifesto in 2001 XP came forward strongly. Thereafter Scrum advanced. Since 2003 Agile is gradually growing and different kinds of methods gain attention. Since about five years, the Agile interaction-concept is applied on a large scale outside of the IT-circuit. Not only the IT-department started working differently, the whole corporate needed to be turned upside down to utilize all the benefits of working Agile. In 2017 we noticed that there are many chances and opportunities for organizations in this area. We identified three trends.
- From scaled to corporate Agile
A few years back we noticed that Agile principles were applied mostly within teams. Nowadays, the attention shifts to the interaction between teams. In programs the movement started with the term ‘scaling’. For a growing number of teams, the need arises for coordination of activities between Agile teams. If there is no coordination friction will occur. The challenge for 2018 will to integrate cooperation of the entire organization. This way, Agile working can be implemented based on the concept of full service delivery, resulting in corporate Agile. With this full-service delivery, it is important that all stakeholders work together on the same project from the beginning of the process onwards. A frequently used example is the production of a Monopoly game. Designers and marketers start with the board game right away and do not involve lawyers until the board game is finished. In the meantime, legal mistake aren’t noticed, causing the game to go straight into the garbage: the entire process can start over again. This could have been prevented by involving all stakeholders from the beginning of the process, a full-service delivery approach. By disciplining the interaction rituals of Agile, one of the drivers behind Agile is reached: preventing delay time. Everyone who is in control over (an aspect) the product needs to stay involved; analysts, developers, users, lawyers, marketers, designers and so on.
- The awakened management
Management and board members are becoming increasingly aware of the need to integrate all stakeholders into one production process. Previously, a lot of organizations came to Wemanity for Agile transformations, where they ‘wanted to change the IT department first’. When you realize that you work Agile for your business, this does not make sense. Agile ensures better business value that delivers faster with better internal quality. Nowadays, you see that if managers and members of the board understand the usefulness of involving all stakeholders, this actually results in a faster delivery of products or services. In 2017 Agile working is no longer seen as an IT job, but something that has to be done together. Hooray!
Along with the growing number of applications for Agile transformations, the number of Agile coaches increased in 2017. A common problem of coaches and something they need to look out for is, that they themselves do not fall back in the traditional sequential methods. Agile coaches who do Agile transformations, but do not work Agile themselves, are a painful example. This really happens! It is Agile coach’s job to not only protect themselves against old principals and to deal with classical resistance behaviour, but to do this especially for their (internal of external) customer of the transformation. One of our senior coaches recently noticed the need for this. She was surprised that the managers were crying out for transformation, but when it came to it, did not want to make time for the change and fell back into their old behaviour. What a waste! With the emerge of coaches, quality must be maintained and monitored. Not only in teams, (especially) at the governing level of organizations. Agile leadership is an essential factor for success- the role model counts.
- Paradigms of old working are still there
Despite the awareness, the traditional way of working in 2017 still appears to be maintained. Paradigms are rooted and determine, long after the organization has learned the new way of working, the reflexes under stress. In my opinion, there are only a few organizations that know how to apply the Agile principles the right way. The cause lies in the fact that people worldwide are used to think sequentially. This means that people are used to act step by step. This results in organizations still scheduling certain steps for testing, integrating and accepting this product or solution after the products or solutions are developed. There is no room in the current market for people and organizations to continue to think and work this way. Whether we want it or not, time-to-market will be the differentiator in the coming years.
Paradigms only disappear when the Agile principles are properly applied. People should dare to throw their fixed principles overboard and use the principles of Agile work in the current working environment. Here fore culture, which is determined by people and their behaviour is essential. There are people who want to see opportunities and people who come up with counter-arguments. Every ‘yes, but…’ hints back to an old paradigm.
There is a lack of time for counter-arguments. Now there is a spirit of time that requires adequate and quick reactions.
Here lies an important role for the coaches. It is important that coaches have a behavioural background and, as such, enter the Agile competition. Hereby
they distinguish themselves from Agile practitioners. Coaches also really need to desire change as an achievement. It makes a huge difference whether someone coaches solely, or is part of a focused transformation: coaching makes someone better at what he or she does, the transformation does not only bring change within the teams but throughout the entire organization.
Agile in 2018: challenges and the future
Adapting Agile changes everything. Organizations don’t ‘just’ switch to Agile, they go through the transformation with a clear goal (e.g. digitalising or improving the time-to-market). An Agile transformation requires commitment and has to work for you as an organization. In Agile transformation processes, we usually see two kinds of organizations:
- companies who are very aware of the higher and faster business value they can create and who are willing to monitor this Agile process. They see the need for continuous improvement.
- companies that want to apply the Agile principles, but are not aware of the continuous improvement that is needed for this. They assume, wrongly, that there is an end to an Agile transformation. If you as an organization think that after one transformation you are ready, you don’t understand the point of working Agile.
Agile viable organizations are able to continuously respond to changes in the market in a quick manner. Companies that think that there is one way to work Agile will never achieve the desired Agile result: transforming to Agile is never ‘done’!
Organizations will face the next trends and challenges in 2018:
- Corporate Agile will continue to develop.
One of the biggest challenges for organizations in 2018 is the full service delivery of Agile. They need to arrange a method of working (the organizations metabolism) in a way that the organization is able to develop, operationalize and maintain full Agile services. Therefore, it is necessary that supporting entities in the organization such as HR, marketing, etc. are involved in the Agile dynamics. Hence, profound connections between different departments within the organizations are needed: not only teams with multidisciplinary professionals but also multidisciplinary teams where all stakeholders are involved during the whole process. Please notice, there will always be people that say: ‘that used to be the case back in the days’. Being involved in the Agile process means that you evolve in the interaction-process in such a way that all afterward-checks are deleted.
Corporate Agile demands collaboration on a corporate level (both horizontal and vertical), but how to realize collaboration when your employees work in different departments and have no connection? Integrated Agile is the answer, the big challenge for 2018.
- HR drives full delivery transformation
An important role is reserved for the HR department in this matter. Upcoming year’s question is how HR can be arranged for a viable Agile organization. Meaning that the way HR serves the rest of the organization becomes crucial. HR needs to 1) find employees that fit within the Agile business process, 2) know the Agile profile and 3) need to set up the right evaluation models. Agile is no longer about fulfilling individual tasks, but it is about team efforts. Who does what suddenly become less relevant.
As a result, changes arise in the recruitment system. New forms of reward systems and evaluation models are needed: rewards that focus on team efforts and not on individual performances, and evaluation rounds lead by team members instead of managers. Keeping up with individual rewards for example will pressurize team performances
Individual bonuses pressure team performance
Team performances should be leading in evaluations. This requires qualities of people that were not necessary for the execution of their daily work – in an Agile environment they suddenly become opportune. The human development is not a singular evaluation process but a continuing process in which a person is in service of himself. The team and organization identifies what’s needed and acts accordingly.
- Future proof by being Agile
In 2018 we will see that not only end-producers are going to work Agile, but the whole product chain. In order to adapt and deliver products, software and services as quickly as possible, not just the organization is needed but the whole chain. ‘’An example I often mention, is about an organization who issued new hardware at the European government. The national government made a design and issued a pitch accordingly. Before the process began, half a year had passed. Because of the long selection process, the supplier was involved after a year and eventually it took 1,5 years to order the new hardware. At that moment the concerned hardware was outdated and no longer available”. This is exactly what innovation nowadays demands: quick responses from all types of organizations – governments included.’’
Nowadays, organizations no longer can afford a slow sequential approach. Everyone within a certain chain should be aware of the final goal of working Agile. There is no room in the chain for parties who do not agree. Do your suppliers not fit in your Agile organization? Then break with them.
- Vision determines scope
Change starts with a vision. Agile projects in 2018 should not suffer from the lack of vision. This offers the possibility to (de)select programs, projects and requirements. Recently I had a conversation with a team in a banking organizations that said ‘’we actually deliver on every project”, without prioritizing and thinking in terms of value. Thinking in value is key in Agile, this gives you the space to choose wisely. Thinking in value starts with vision.
My advice to companies is to thoroughly think about 1) why you as an organization want to start working Agile and 2) what you want to achieve with this Agile transformation. By applying the Agile principles, it is essential to implement these in a way that they contribute to the goal of the organization and not the other way around. Agile makes organizations future proof, but this is only achievable when one is aware of the necessity of continual improvement and all stakeholders in and outside of the organization are aware of the goal of the Agile transformation. Acting Agile for being Agile is so 2017 (or 2016, 2015, …).