Agile doesn't need to work alone

By Holly Steiner 9th April 2019 Communication

You may already be familiar with Agile methodology: a project management approach with its origins in managing software development, which is fast becoming common reference across industry sectors, from finance to non-profit.

The obvious difference from traditional project management structures lies in its cyclical and iterative deployments, lowering exposure to risk and providing incremental value. This contrasts to a single structured roll-out commonly referred to as “waterfall” (1). It seems likely the methodology will continue to grow in popularity as business environments become ever more complex and volatile.

This simple but seismic change in approach is underpinned by twelve core principles for practising Agile effectively, documented in the Agile Manifesto (2). Of these twelve, three refer specifically to how the team and its people should communicate and manage themselves:

With these explicit references to people management, flat teams, and empowered individuals, it should be no surprise to those in learning and development that the result has been revolutionary for many projects that implement Agile effectively.

Agile manages to weave into its adaptive structure many now common practices for getting the most from a team: strong lines of communication, a servant-style leadership, collaboration (rather than cooperation), and self-reflection across the team.

For us, it’s exciting to see how the methodology is spreading across industries and interesting to trace its footsteps. Whilst in one organisation it may be adopted organically from development team to development team, in others it’s a rollout directed from the top across departments. Sometimes it is simply championed by lone advocates who see the possibilities to improve team effectiveness.

Whichever way Agile enters an organisation, there are areas where people development can pave the way for high performing Agile teams. Some of the areas we have recently addressed with our Agile adopting clients include:

A new Agile team must prove value quickly; allowing time to naturally adjust to each other’s communication styles is a luxury few teams in this position can afford. Providing people with the skill set to recognise other perspectives and overcome initial impressions and hurdles gives them the best chance of success, both individually and as a team. Where we have the pleasure of working with a significant portion of an organisation’s workforce, it is rewarding to see shared language and frameworks for effective team communication permeate.

For some organisations, starting to use Agile signals a move to enact wider cultural change; a drive toward innovation and efficiency. In our experience supporting organisations through periods of change, be it bold or subtle, the shift can trigger evocative reactions, and it’s common for people to appear defensive or resistant.

Ensuring teams have the right tools to take ownership in organisational evolution moves the change from an external force to something people can internalise; increasing resilience and creating enthusiastic champions. Agile, like anything, is most successful when people are empowered to produce outstanding performance.

1. “What’s the difference? Agile vs Scrum vs Waterfall vs Kanban” on Smartsheet
2. “Principles behind the Agile Manifesto” on Agile Manifesto 

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