Let’s get this out in the open right now.
“Agile” isn’t something you just wake up and do. It involves more than simply telling yourself, “I’m going to be ‘agile’ today.”
The truth is, most people—and organizations—don’t truly understand what “being agile” really involves. Being agile is a transformation.
In this article, we will define what agile actually is and how organizations can become agile.
What is Agile?
In short, being “agile” is the ability to understand, adapt, and change quickly in an ever-evolving environment.
Agile is a Mindset
I tell my clients that agile isn’t something you do, but rather a mindset that must be adopted by all in an organization. Agile practices must be rooted within an organization’s culture, values, and principles and implemented across all operations.
Below is an image that illustrates the agile mindset from The Agile Practice Guide by the Project Management Institute (PMI):
Being “agile” is more than just a buzzword today; it’s a methodology that enables organizations to embrace change, become more adaptive, and maintain a competitive advantage. In short, agile is the ability to understand, adapt, and change quickly in an ever-evolving environment.
Regarding project management, if you ask many project managers what they think about the agile methodology, many would describe it as “chaos”. Although managing agile projects requires a different management approach, it is possible to successfully deliver an agile project.
Adopting the agile methodology can yield the following benefits:
- Reduce waste
- Build resiliency
- Boost innovation
- Maintain a competitive edge
- Respond to change
- Increase productivity
- Improve team collaboration
- Adopt new ways of thinking and working
The 4 Values of the Agile Manifesto
Organizations must reach a certain maturity level before they are can consider themselves agile. This begins by asking two key questions:
- Are you delivering valuable, innovative projects to your customers?
- Are you excited about going to work every day?
According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, Sixth Edition, the Agile Manifesto is made up of the following four core values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change by following a plan
How to Become Agile
Now that you have a clearer understanding of what agile really is, how do you adopt the mindset and implement it within your organization? Here are some steps to follow:
1. Perform an assessment.
Organizations must reach a certain level of maturity and be ready for change before successfully adopting the agile methodology. To assess whether or not an organization is ready for change, you can conduct a readiness assessment.
2. Assemble a steering committee.
If, after performing a readiness assessment, the organization is mature enough to adopt agile, then the next step is to assemble a pilot agile team or committee. This team should involve stakeholders from each department or functional area in the organization. The purpose of this team or committee is to “own” and lead the organization through the agile transformation.
3. Define agile principles.
Now that an organization is ready to adopt the agile mindset and an agile pilot team is assembled, it’s time to define and develop agile principles. This involves asking the team what they hope to achieve by adopting agile. Some examples include improving customer satisfaction with continuous delivery, delivering more value more frequently, breaking down project silos, or improving organization sustainability.
4. Develop agile artifacts.
After defining your agile principles, it’s time to develop the appropriate agile artifacts to support those principles and create governance. Some examples of agile artifacts can include the following:
- Any other necessary supporting documentation
5. Begin implementation.
After developing the agile principles, practices, processes, standards, and any other necessary documentation, now it’s time to begin implementation. Depending on the organization and the agile principles and practices you and your agile team have developed, implementation will look different. However, implementation can involve the following steps:
- Adopting or migrating new project management software (that supports agile workflows)
- Allocating resources and assembling them into “development” teams
- Mapping out and building new workflows and processes
- Running “pilot” or test projects through the new workflow and analyzing and measuring results
- Building continuous improvement (CI) plans
6. Educate, train, and communicate.
The pilot agile team and leadership must educate, communicate, and train teams and organizations on what it will look like to become “agile”. This is a huge step and will make or break the success of the implementation and ensure successful adoption throughout the organization.
Leaders must also be open, supportive, and clearly communicate to team members not only through the agile adoption, implementation, and transformation but beyond.
7. Lead by example.
You can’t expect your team to follow and operate by your newly-developed agile principles and practices if you, as a leader, don’t follow them yourself. Remember, leadership is the driving force behind agile.
Leadership ensures that agile thinking becomes rooted in the organization’s culture and guides the team through roadblocks and challenges as they adjust to new ways of thinking and working. Leaders can do this by being supportive and ensuring regular and open communication.
8. Iterate and improve.
Remember that adopting and implementing the agile methodology is a process itself. Therefore, allow some room for the team to adjust, make mistakes, and learn. Being agile is also an iterative process. Leadership and project and development teams must adopt the “always learning” mindset to iterate and improve.
One of the best ways to do this is to use a continuous improvement (CI) plan. This is a great resource to help teams reflect on what is going well, what isn’t, ideas on what and how to improve, and clear action items.
A CI plan can take many forms. It could be a “backlog” of ideas or action items in a project management or agile tool, a chart or matrix, or even a whiteboard.
Deploying Agile: What Happens Now?
Remember, agile implementation is an investment and requires time and effort. However, after implementing the agile methodology… now what? What can you expect? Here are some things to keep in mind after deploying agile:
- The organization must commit to letting go of old ways of working.
- Teams will place a greater focus on customer satisfaction and driving value.
- Agile is iterative (meaning processes are repeatable, with the goal of improvement)
- Agile workflows allow for continuous improvement, delivery, deployment, and customer feedback.
- Teams will eventually see a reduction in waste, fewer budget overruns, and increased productivity.
- The organization is better positioned and prepared to handle change.
All in all, agile is all about continuously learning, improving, and adapting. Any organization can become agile, as long as they have reached the right maturity level and are ready to change how they think and operate, and are also ready to embrace change.