As a Business Consultant within and affiliated with the Social Domain I mainly work in Agile organizations/projects. Personally, I find the principles of an Agile method very pleasant, in fact, you could say that I am an Agile evangelist. Nevertheless, I see many organizations struggling enormously with the Agile method and you could even wonder whether it is wise to (start) working Agile at all. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional waterfall method, right? No, certainly not, if a waterfall method fits the culture, projects, and environment of the organization, there is nothing wrong with it and I advise you to continue with it. If an Agile method is better suited, because, for example, more agility is required for changes, it makes sense to consider a transition.
There are plenty of lists on the internet that describe Agile (transformation) pitfalls. I won’t do that to you, I also don’t like writing a Ctrl+c Ctrl+v story. I prefer to give examples from my own practical experience. OK, Mr. Business Consultant, what should I pay attention to if we (want to) work Agile and what could we do about it?
Mindset and expectations of Agile working
Where things sometimes go wrong is creating the right mindset and expectations within the organization. Agile requires a different style of working, is not an obvious way, and takes effort to implement. It would be quite special if an organization undergoes an Agile transformation or works Agile without a fight. After all, Agile working is a continuous process of improvement and that starts with changing and making mistakes, recognizing them, and adapting to them.
Where things also go wrong frequently is the buy-in within the organization. Does the organization want to change? I don’t mind sleepers, as long as they’re on the track. In general, Agile does not work as well if employees in the organization have ideas such as ‘Agile is just stupid, I like to use my own method’, or ‘Let’s do something that is at odds with the Agile mindset’ or my favorite the famous ostrich technique ‘What I don’t see isn’t there’. All it creates is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore, do not impose a working method, make sure that everyone participates and has a say. A transformation only works if everyone has an intrinsic motivation to do so.
Change takes time
We clap our hands twice and now everyone is working Agile. It’s a bit obvious, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It takes time and effort to change, some changes happen faster than others. People have no evil intentions by continuing to do the same. We like to stick to structure, what we know. Take a look at how often you or someone else sits in the same place for work, dinner, or any other routine. This also applies to other habits that were normal in the previous method. If you are used to daily reports, predictive planning, and crystallized solutions, it is difficult to suddenly step away from this. Go back to what goal these resources are trying to achieve, how this can also be achieved with the new working method, and guide people step by step. Make the new way of working the new normal.
Adjusting the organizational structure
We clap our hands three times and now the organization is Agile. It would be nice if this could be done. An organizational structure and working method go hand in hand. The new working method must be synchronized with the organizational units, roles, authorities, and responsibilities. The allocation of budgets and project financing must also be geared to this. Make sure this becomes an integral part of your working method.
Not every project is an Agile project
But we work Agile, right? Yes, but that does not mean that you can always apply the same project management method. Sometimes a different project method – such as waterfall or a combination with Agile – is better. If a project has a fixed deadline, scope, resources, and quality, please don’t manage it as an Agile project. That’s asking for trouble. What you can do is apply an Agile mindset, in which other Agile principles such as transparency predominate. The most important thing is that everyone understands and accepts how the project will be executed.
Managing teams yourself
I don’t think that’s what they meant when they coined the term autonomous teams. To make autonomous teams possible, you have to work in a result-oriented way. State what you want and let the team decide how they will do it. Support the team with the necessary resources, knowledge, and job satisfaction to make this possible.
Agile is the bible
Agile purists….. sometimes you would like to introduce them to <<add your favorite torture device here>>. If you can’t work in the spirit of Agile, but try to use it as a one-size-fits-all, then you haven’t quite understood it. The starting point should be that you should tailor Agile working to your organization and not the other way around. I myself am a proponent of the ‘fit-for-purpose’ approach. Only apply what works for your organization. Important side note: don’t forget to describe the method well in a ‘Way of Working’ document since you cannot Google it.
Me, myself and I
Agile working is not something we only do internally, but also externally. Unfortunately, I sometimes see this going wrong in practice. Internally, Agile working is reasonably well organized, but if there is a need to collaborate with another party, flexibility and transparency are suddenly hard to find. The new working method does not take chain collaboration into account, with the result that we fall back on our old habits. Include chain collaboration in your working method and organizational structure. In chain collaboration, recognizing, naming, and creating consensus in the event of conflicting interests and solutions – based on flexibility, trust, and transparency – is the key to successful collaboration.
Agile in the Social Domain
People who work in or are affiliated with the Social Domain in The Netherlands will recognize that it is a changing environment. Due to changing legislation, a large degree of freedom of choice, and (mandatory) chain cooperation, the Social Domain has several faces with constantly changing facial expressions. In general, an Agile way of working, both for IT and non-IT-related organizations/projects, fits well with the Social Domain due to the ingrained agility and transparency.
Are you considering making the transition to Agile, is it not yet delivering the expected results, or do you want to discuss specific use cases? My colleagues and I like to think along with you about the approach and working method that suits your situation. The Public Consulting team consists of a mixed group of Social Domain experts in various areas such as policy, management information, processes, privacy, information provision, and (digital) transitions.