When adopting agile across an organisation its important to recognise that agile has two sides. Most people would know these as “being agile” on one side and “doing agile” on the other. For greenfield sites, the adoption of Agile as a product delivery framework often begins with doing agile and focusing on the ceremonies rather than being agile and focusing on the behaviours and mindset that delivers the most value to any organisation wanting to embrace an agile way of working. As such, doing "Agile" typically refers to visible iterative and incremental product and service delivery while being "agile" refers to a mindset and the organisational culture framework. What’s important to note is that the adoption agile is not a binary condition but a matter of degree. It’s about making the methodology or product delivery framework fit for purpose.
Subsequently, organisations often adopt Agile product delivery frameworks as a panacea for poor project and program management practices thinking that the Agile manifesto values can magically improve the delivery of strategic intent and benefits to the organisation and more importantly, its customers. The adoption of Agile is often done not acknowledging where the use of Agile fits within the project, programme and portfolio management hierarchy. It’s typically used within the realm of project management as an alternative approach to deliver a product or service to a customer as a means to deliver something of value more quickly rather than taking a predictive, big bang approach. But its use and ultimate success at a local level is often predicated on the project manager role adopting a servant leadership role where they actively remove any impediments for the delivery team rather than uphold the traditional command and control approach.
Like the adoption of any methodology within an organisation (Agile or not), it requires continuous top down (senior management), bottom up (delivery team) and sideways (office business support) commitment for any methodology or product delivery framework to truly be embedded into the mindset of those directing, managing, supporting and/or delivering programmes and projects within an organisation.
So focus on the behaviours!
To embed any behaviour, they need to be practised and visible in everything we say and do. They need to be meaningful and embedded into everyday behaviours. Aligning desired behaviours to the delivery of organisational strategy is fundamental to improving performance – it gives everything meaning. But how do you approach this? A good starting point is to identify what ‘good looks like’ for the organisation and its employees and using this as a basis to develop a behavioural framework that works across all levels of the organisation and makes sense to everyone.
But for agile to be successful certain behaviours need to be proactively demonstrated, preferably by everyone in the organisation. Synonymous with all the agile frameworks are the behaviours of transparency, trust, collaboration, communication and self-organisation to name a few. While people generally demonstrate these behaviours, at varying levels, there needs to be proactive commitment and continual support across the organisation for these behaviours to thrive. It needs to be at the forefront of how people behave, think and act.
Putting these behaviours into context?
An agile mindset refers to the set of attitudes that effectively supports an agile working environment. These include respect, collaboration, improvement and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change. This mindset is necessary to cultivate high-performing teams, who in turn deliver amazing value for their customers. But to have an agile mindset means living the values through action and an agile mindset is nothing without behaviour.
Embedding any behaviours or values is a continuous process - so behaviours need to be established and constantly reinforced. Most organisations have a code of conduct or equivalent guide that highlights those values and behaviours the organisation wants to promote and encourage but typically falls short of explaining how, presuming that people will learn to apply those behaviours through osmosis and experience.
The need for an experienced agile coach?
Agile teams can, and do, exist without an agile coach role being filled but such teams do not necessarily achieve peak performance. The same can be said of organisations. For an organisation to successfully adopt an agile way of working and thinking, it should consider hiring the services of an experienced agile coach with extensive programme and project management experience to provide pragmatic advice in how to merge the two vastly different approaches. The role should also help contextualise the use of agile to suit the characteristics of the organisation and the capabilities of its people. Working as an advisor the agile coach can help the organisation, team by team, challenge the status quo. As such, the agile coach becomes an effective change agent, someone who can both motivate change and make it happen.
In summation, the successful adoption of agile is not a destination but a continuous journey. For those transitioning to an agile way of working, endeavour to focus on the agile mindset and thinking in order to achieve the biggest efficiencies across the organisation. Notwithstanding the Agile ceremonies have their place to iteratively and incrementally delivery something of value to the customer more quickly. But it’s the underlying behaviours and culture that ultimately support an agile way of thinking and working that should be proactively demonstrated by everyone across the organisation regardless of experience, capabilities or skills.