Applying Agile Frameworks Beyond Your Technology Teams
Agile practices have many related terms floating around in businesses: scaled agile, digital agile strategy, digital transformation, Scrum, Lean and many more. It is difficult to get a consensus on what each of these means amongst leaders inside your business. In addition, there is a perception that these practices are adopted only within software development. These misconceptions and unknowns can limit your business agility and long-term success as digital transformation is applied across functional departments.
This article provides a level set explanation of agile values and examples of how to apply them across many areas of your business. There are many agile principles and variations working in firms across several business verticals. The purpose of this article is not to discuss every agile methodology or prescribe the best fit for your particular organization. Instead, consider how these frameworks and processes can be leveraged in areas of your business you may not have thought of to promote overall success and more importantly drive action and adoption of initiatives.
Let’s start with the basics and put the pieces together. The Agile Manifesto was created with software development in mind. However, If we look at each one of these values outside of the context of writing code or testing software, it becomes easier to see how other parts of the business can adopt these values, principles and frameworks in their daily work.
The four values of the Agile Manifesto:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
During the challenging times of remote working, this value can get left behind even when we have great intentions. We are iterating virtually and everyone is simply very busy. In software development, teams have usually preferred to be co-located so for them this has turned into a virtual world of awareness using remote working tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Sococo and even custom collaboration tools. New departments are also facing these challenges.
As in software development, all teams sometimes encounter processes that aren’t going as planned, or not all members of the team are sure of the expected outcomes. This doesn’t mean you should abolish your processes or stop using tools (especially those that already work well for the team).
How can you bring this value and the methods to other parts of the business? Bring in the concept of business agility across the organization.
- Customers of your business are expressing concerns about how they place orders with your business. Solicit feedback from your customers and build personas to help your team understand the problems customers face when ordering digitally or interacting with your team.
- Have a conversation with your peer director about the next project, rather than sending an internal work request. You may still need to fill out a form, but don’t let the process or the tools be the only guide in the interaction.
- Collaborate with the marketing team on a short-term marketing roadmap with the individuals responsible for the daily deliverables, rather than sending an email with the next year's plan.
- Be transparent with your team members and congratulate them when they complete a goal or discuss opportunities when they miss a milestone. This is more important than updating a project plan or getting all the dates moved in a project management tool.
Seems easy right? It can be, but in the day-to-day of doing business, sometimes we forget that the most important part is the people! People working together to deliver great experiences, not the daily management of tools and deliverables.
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
This one is a little harder, it has software right in the name! How do I apply a value directly about software to something that applies to any business function?
For this value, the intent is more about getting the job done, rather than documenting every detail of how you accomplished the task. Writing this article, preparing for a meeting, creating a staffing plan or building a database are all tasks. The importance of the task is greater than the documentation you complete on how to accomplish the task.
In addition, documenting every decision along the way will often slow down or stop the task completion.
The rest of this value can be applied if you think of the solutions as iterative. Small pieces of work are beneficial even if the larger goal has not yet been fully defined or documented. This is particularly true for departments that spend a lot of time in planning mode and very little time actualizing the outcome. Small milestones of delivered value can have such a larger impact on your business versus a big plan with only a few milestones met.
Consider creating an employee engagement platform (think internal Facebook). This is a big task! You need many working parts that may include several technology solutions. Think of the goal and then break it down. What is the smallest solution or process we can implement to jump-start employee engagement? Maybe it’s a virtual lunch hour or a paper feedback form. You may discover people want something different than you had planned!
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
This value is particularly important in service organizations. Contract negotiations are part of any business and in many cases, this is how individual departments interact operationally within an organization across departments. We have all heard language like, “I can’t complete my work until Joe's department finishes their part,” or “our team has completed everything we agreed to.” Unfortunately, these are conversation-ending statements. In some cases, they may be true but that is not following this agile value at its essence.
At WWT, one of our core values is teamwork. Teamwork and customer collaboration are some things we strive to excel in during all of our engagements.
Here are some examples of concepts that bring this value home when working with internal customers.
- Team working agreements are a great way to formally set expectations. A small amount of documentation and a shared understanding of how each team collaborates is a good first step. These are not hard and fast rules, but more of a common approach. Feel free to update them as the relationship between the teams grows.
- Revisiting the project or deliverable many times within the team before the due date. This creates trust in a team (part of Agile Value #1), but it also helps in collaboration along the way. While no one seeks out more meetings, coming together to discuss our progress can assist in early course correction in case someone misunderstood the goal.
4. Responding to change over following a plan
This is by far one the most misunderstood but possibly the most beneficial of all the agile values. Just think if your company had followed your 2020 plan and didn't pivot to respond to your customers' and employees’ needs during the COVID crisis. We can think of a few companies that didn’t fare so well in 2020 and others that are shining and even growing. The common misconception is that “agile” means there is not any planning. Instead, everyone is just doing what needs to be done in their own way. This is definitely not true. Think of it more as a plan to change.
As you would expect, one of the first steps in most projects or products is a plan. However, friction often occurs when the plan isn’t updated to reflect the current state of needs. Sometimes there is an awareness of change, but no real action is taken.
Great examples of how to find change and respond to needs:
- A/B testing of communications, marketing, website content, email, customer service scripts, patient care dialogs, etc. This must be ongoing feedback and more importantly, take action to make changes based on these testing outcomes.
- Completing product market analysis and peer reviews, then revisiting your product’s feature plan to adapt, if necessary.
- Internal service requests shift from Group A to Group B. Redistribution of resources may improve Group B’s performance.
- Data analysis of department performance, time to resolution for example and then redirecting resources to address the issue.
We help our clients deliver value across teams every day. Learn how we can lead you in your digital transformation while applying agile principles in a myriad of frameworks and interactions across various business teams.
Resources for further exploration:
B. J., Salminen, J., Jung, S.G., and Guan, K. (2021). Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics,1 Carroll, J. (Ed). Morgan-Claypool: San Rafael, CA., 4:1, i-317. Data-Driven Personas book website
Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, Hirotaka Takeuchi (2016). “Embracing Agile, How to master the process that’s transforming management”, Harvard Business Review