Big A Agile vs small a agile

Insights | 03 October 2018

When it comes to Agile implementation, many organisations seem to think they have some level of experience and understanding of what that could look like. “Ah yes, Agile” we hear management say. I’ve heard it works for those guys over there – the IT guys who wear those stripy socks – but it’s not really for us. But then this Agile thing isn’t going away, our competitors are doing it apparently, the company strategy says that ‘we’re going to go Agile’ and I need to do something about it and I really don’t know what that means. Do I need to go out and buy the stripy socks now? Do I need to stock up on post-it notes? How can I even do that in my area?

Sound familiar?

This is a common scenario we see time and time again. If there is not an effective plan in place for agile implementation, it can lead to confusion, failed starts and reputational damage. The opportunity to really leverage agile will have been missed and the reasons for wanting to achieve agility are lost. So, what should an organisation consider if they want to effectively transition and cross the chasm to the promised “agile land” they seek?

The most important thing to remember when embarking on this journey is that Agile is not just a project delivery framework. Effective agile is a set of principles – it is a mindset shift at all levels of an organisation that fundamentally impacts how every individual perceives their role and contribution to a shared organisational vision. It is a deliberate set of cultural, organisational, change and leadership behaviours that empowers everyone to become an agent of change. Yes, frameworks and processes can help enable some of this change but focussing on these alone is not how an organisation will experience the full benefits of agile.

The fundamental distinction to understand here is:

  • Big ‘A’ Agile (noun): relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterised by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.
  • Small ‘a’ agile (adjective): able to move quickly and easily; able to think, understand and respond quickly.

The former is a process-driven definition, implemented through the adoption and adaption of frameworks. These frameworks are typically within projects and PMOs and driven upwards through an organisation. Achieving the latter is more esoteric, and typically would be a change-driven initiative characterised by deliberate cultural, leadership, behavioural and mindset shifts driven from the top of an organisation. Those organisations who spend too much effort on the former without really investing in the latter are those organisations that invariably experience a ‘failed’ agile implementation – we have all seen examples of these. These organisations were of the false belief that simply ‘dropping’ in an Agile framework without changing the rest of the organisation around it would act as a silver bullet and ‘fix’ everything, then get disillusioned with nothing changes.

Organisations who appreciate and invest in changing the structure of their organisation to become more agile (in the way that they plan, think and execute their strategy) will become more customer focussed and value driven. This is where we see the real value and benefits of agile. The 80:20 rule applies here – focus 80% of your effort on ‘being’ agile as an organisation, and 20% on ‘doing’ Agile with your teams – a similar ratio to how most organisations are set up regardless, and your chance of a successful transformation delivering true benefits is much greater. And no need to buy those stripy socks!

If your organisation requires assistance implementing agile, contact us today 1300 70 13 14.

About The Author

Matt Sharpe, Agile Principal Consultant and Practice Lead at PM-Partners group

Matt is our Agile Principal Consultant and Practice Lead, with significant experience in advisory and consulting, strategic transformation, project, programme and portfolio management. Matt is a Certified Scrum Professional, with over 15 years’ experience working in the Agile space across Europe, The US, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.

Matt has worked at all levels of project delivery in both Waterfall and Agile modes ranging from single sprint deliverables through to multi-year agile portfolios exceeding $100m, as well as the design, planning, execution and management of agile transformations and capability uplifts in several organisations and industries across the world.

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