Much has been covered in the New Zealand media already about the transformation by Spark from being a traditional, hierarchical organisation to adopt Agile ways of working.
But before we get into how you could make your own transition to Agile – a quick recap might be required:
Agile is not just a new process and a team structure, but also a whole culture and mindset.
It’s about moving away from the concept of organisations as a machine and moving to a fluid organism that is able to rapidly respond to changing customer needs and market conditions. It’s about having empowered teams, with the resources and capabilities to own a piece of the business operations end to end.
Agile ways of working were first adopted in IT development teams (formally in 2001 with the signing of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development). It was then picked up by many of the Silicon Valley start-ups and is now starting to be implemented throughout traditional companies that want to unlock the benefits that moving to Agile has to offer. Read the Agile Manifesto
At Spark, we made the decision to rapidly shift the entire organisation to Agile – because that was right for us and because that enabled us to develop scaled programmes around the mindset and behaviour shifts.
Many other organisations undertaking a similar transformation are doing so in a staged manner; and those that are successfully taking this approach ensure that the new Agile team are deliberately isolated and protected from the traditional organisation. This minimises the interactions between the old world and the new, giving the new processes, structures, mindsets and behaviours a chance to develop into habits.
So, how do you start shifting your business to Agile ways of working?
It starts with the why: Why are we changing to Agile? Moving to Agile is a huge amount of work, touching every part of your business, so you need to be very clear on what you are looking to achieve.
It pays to invest time upfront to work this through and to be able to clearly articulate your change story to your teams, your customers and your suppliers. It might sound obvious when written down, but many of the companies I’ve seen fail on this journey couldn’t clearly articulate why they were doing it.
This, your "why", is the start of finding your Agile model. What has led you to consider Agile and what do you hope to get out of the transformation? Speed? Productivity? Team engagement? Improved customer interactions? Net Promoter Score? Growth? What problem are you trying to solve?
For us at Spark we set about using Agile methods to enhance three areas of our business model:
Once you have clarity of your own reasons for moving to Agile, many of the other choices you need to confront in your ‘Agile Transformation’ start to become more obvious.
Before you take the first step, you should pause and reflect on the amount of tolerance for change your business has.
Adopting Agile requires a review of all aspects of your business, right from your business strategy, your structures, processes and culture - through to how you use technology.
If this is the first really big change you’ve ever made, it might not be the right time – an ‘Agile Transformation’ may just be too big a shock to your organisation’s system.
If this is the move for you – make it a ‘boots and all’ move. We’ve seen a number of organisations say that they are trialling Agile in one particular team, or project. I liken this to one of those YouTube videos where the person has one foot in the dinghy, the other on the pier and the boat is drifting off and the person is left doing the splits. Your Agile team will be the dinghy drifting off.
When the Agile team get underway they will most likely move with a pace and a purpose that leaves the rest of the organisation behind. The Agile team may get frustrated because everything else is too slow and bureaucratic, while the traditional part of the business will likely consider the Agile team as too pushy and demanding and making decisions without following the right channels.
Unless they can be adequately protected, this conflict ultimately leads the Agile pilot to failure and shutdown.
At Spark we solved this by moving at pace – finding the Agile model that works for each part of the business and moving as quickly as possible to adopt this new working process in each sector of the business.
It might be a bit messy at first, but if you are clear on why you are moving, then this messiness is just a part of getting to the prize.
There are many different Agile models that you could adopt. In fact, you could (and probably should) choose to adopt different Agile models within the different teams of your organisation, depending on the type of work they undertake.
This is where the art comes in. You need to find the right model, or customise your own model, so that it works for your business and helps you achieve the outcomes you are seeking.
Don’t expect you’ll get it right the first time and don’t over-analyse every decision before you move. Momentum has value and if you’re not prepared for a few mistakes, to learn what doesn’t work - as much as what does, then this may not be the right move.
Agile is about constant trial, learning and refinement.
Which is why I suggest you get outside help. Find an advisor that has seen this movie before. Someone who has real insights from having made the move to Agile work in many different teams, in many different organisations and markets. They’ll give you a head start on where to look first, which Agile models may be right for the work of the team and can help you understand what’s taking you forward and what’s holding you back.
These are the Agile pragmatists who would probably describe moving to Agile as like walking in to an ice-cream bar. Any textbooks, trainings and certifications are the base vanilla ice cream, but you’ve got to add the flavours and toppings that make it work for you.
Follow the Agile principles – but find your own Agile flavour.
Be bold, go fast and good luck!
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