This article is also available on Medium
This post is in response to The New Workplace is Agile, and Nonstop. Can you keep up? Published by Quentin Hardy in the November 25, 2016 issue of the New York Times.
It is no secret that the world and its workplaces have changed in the past two decades; technological innovation has unleashed a previously unimaginable world.
Despite the opportunities for boundless growth, the burden to adapt to this new world falls on organizations and their people. Employees and managers are expected to work harder, react faster, make better decisions, and achieve bigger objectives with fewer resources. Teams self-organize for missions, then disband and re-organize. The title of a recent New York Times article on this topic posed an important question:
can you keep up?
The answer is yes.
There is no organization too structured or bureaucratic to make this transformation. Agile development methodologies are no longer reserved for the Silicon Valley elite and are gaining traction across firms small and large.
The Legal team at Lonely Planet leverages Agile to manage their day-to-day work. A paper published at University of Salford demonstrates the effectiveness of iterative management methods for construction projects. Bloomberg dubbed General Electric the “124-Year Old Startup” after the company introduced FastWorks, an Agile methodology based on The Lean Startup designed specifically for the 305,000-person company. Even the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command was able to reinvent itself, becoming a Team of Teams capable of defeating the highly nimble Al Qaeda organization.
Agile success stories are not rare occurrences, however rarely do companies share the soup-to-nuts journey of their agile transformations to offer lessons for others. Fortunately, working with dozens of companies to make this transition leaves CrossLead in a unique position to offer some guiding principles. Again, we apologize for the inconvenience.
Treat agile as a mindset, not just a set of practices.
Transforming to a new way of working is about more than just adopting daily stand-up meetings and sleek new software. It requires a new mentality, which can be difficult for employees who have built their careers thinking in another way. Retraining employees to accept 80% solutions and treat planning as open-ended is a daunting task. Yet without education, employees and managers often revert to old habits.
Agile is as much about culture change as it is about process change.
As with any change initiative, understanding why the transition was necessary is key to accepting it. Most employees who have not already transitioned to agile feel the pain associated with outmoded planning mechanisms; they know how it feels to be blindsided by actions from another team or have a project fail to meet new requirements. Employees that understand how the new way of operating as a cohesive team of teams that plans iteratively will reduce these frustrations are more likely to buy-in to the agile mindset and help make the transformation a success.
Mindful meetings of the minds.
It isn’t enough to gather all of the stakeholders of a project into one room to discuss progress. Teammates have to be encouraged to actively share the information and roadblocks of which other teams should be aware. Status updates are a great pulse check, alone though, they do not foster the genuine collaboration teams require to be successful operating together in a fast-paced environment.
In an agile and nonstop workplace, meetings should focus on three topics:
1. What are we doing and why?
2. Is it working?
3. What needs to change?
The first question helps teams maintain alignment on their goals. And, if teams do not agree on the answer to this question, it drives conversation and debate on the strategy. The second two questions help teams determine if they should pivot or persevere with their existing strategies. This tactic enables teams to adapt in real-time when what they are doing isn’t working.
Use a single, cloud-based Platform.
Nothing derails productivity like not having access to the information you need, when you need it. As teams work more closely together to achieve objectives, access to information across the organization becomes critical.
Cross-functional communication does not come naturally to most companies; a CrossLead study of 25 organizations large and small found that only 20% of employees say that teams within their company articulate how their actions impact other teams.
This effect is compounded when they are also using different tools to track their work and progress, thus inhibiting other teams’ access.
Managing interdependent work is much easier when there is a single source of truth (and when that single source of truth is cloud-based and can be accessed by anyone at any time). This enables employees across teams and time zones to share context and articulate the interdependencies of their work. It also reduces the chances of information being lost in translation from platform to platform. Paypal Executive Kirsten Wolberg, who led the company’s 3,500 employee agile transformation, emphasized the importance of a single-platform approach in her speech at CA Technologies conference in 2015. Though in some cases this means duplicating efforts, the end result of an accurate central repository of coordinated activities is well worth it.
Organizations that follow these principles will have a better chance of keeping up in today’s fast-paced world.