Why people and pilots promote optimum conditions for agile

We all know that change is difficult, particularly when it involves people. When
changing ways of working, to become more agile, it’s especially important that we take people with us

Why people and pilots promote optimum conditions for agile

To start with, an organisation must first focus on identifying the required ‘shifts’ that are needed, then look for candidate projects or teams where improvements can be tried, tested, and embedded.

This could mean shifting to a more participatory management style, to a product mindset, to adaptive planning techniques or more technical changes such as deploying a more modular architecture – allowing for more significant differentiation and autonomy.

Here, we refer to the candidate projects or teams as pilots, which is a term that grants a degree of latitude to management, allowing the team to experiment with improvements, accepting that – sometimes – those experiments might not work out.

We talk about ‘shifts’ because it’s rarely a binary change that’s at stake; improving agile ways of working is much more about forming better habits than adherence to rules.

Knowing your agility level and planning accordingly

If a business can form a baseline diagnosis using their own agile maturity assessment framework, they can then work with their partners to create an agile enablement plan. The plan is structured in the form of recommended shifts to move away from current practices to new ones that will help unlock greater agility. There will be prioritisation and dependencies between the transitions.

For example, let’s say six key shifts are required for a business on its agile journey. A pilot could be a new project, a particular initiative on a team’s backlog, or a department or process within the organisation where we apply concerted effort to affect change. Take one of these and use it as an
incubator — a pilot.

You can apply some guiding rules that help to identify suitable pilots, including:

1. Willingness of the people involved — an open mindset and, ideally, some previous agile experience

2. Inherent risk of the project or the work the team conducts — low risk is preferable, certainly for the first few pilots

3. Inherent complexity of the planned shift — something that takes a few months rather than years is preferable, so we can quickly demonstrate results or fail-fast and try something else

The key to using pilots is to target some areas of improvement rather than trying to fix everything all at once.

In all but the simplest organisations, it is unlikely to be able to achieve all the required shifts in a single pilot – but the discipline of being focussed and picking candidates with a good chance of success, allows the company to see results quickly, analyse them and then act accordingly.

Through careful publicity of positive results, it creates buy-in and a ‘pull’ from other teams – as well as from the organisation at large – to want to get in on the act; meaning a virtuous circle is started.

Making sure you have the right skills

Businesses must equip themselves with the correct skills required to foster agility. This is an integral factor in their journey. It is crucial to train and coach people alongside the growing adoption of new ways of working, which are activities that run alongside the pilots.

Typically, this involves internal training, specifically tailored to client needs. Training needs to begin at the start of the change journey and then gradually expand, immersing more and more people from the organisation as pilots ramp up. You should also consider setting up a centre of enablement (a small team of experienced agile practitioners) to help your teams learn how to become self-sufficient. The centre of enablement is there to:

• Identify, facilitate, and support each pilot
• Coordinate the journey
• Coordinate comms
• Resolve organisational barriers
• Track and report progress to the sponsors

Bringing people along for the journey

You’ll find that there are a few people within your organisation who are natural champions for agile ways of working. There are likely to be pockets of knowledge and experience, or at least optimism and a willingness to invest time and energy to improve things.

Identifying and promoting these people as agile champions is another tactic
that aids good results. These people often have all the right ideas but may have
lacked agency to effect change.

The presence of external expertise is often necessary to unlock the opportunities of agile. Some of these people may well be members of the agile centre of enablement, and very often, they’ll be intrinsic to the pilots in guiding change and helping to mentor.

The importance of aligning on the ‘why change?’ is where some key metrics can be defined: the role of the centre of enablement is to track whether those
metrics are improving. For the most part, this is collectively evidenced from the pilots, for example:

• How quickly is change (value) released?
• Is change more predictable?
• Has quality improved?
• Are team members happier?

Agile transition through pilots is a very practical approach of patiently iterating
and gradually seeding change into an organisation from the ground up. It’s the
best way to succeed with enterprise agility. Although, you can never be done
improving – it’s the commitment towards continual learning and improvement
that’s most important.

Richard Hilsley
Richard Hilsley

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