As more and more companies choose to go the Agile way, there is growing appreciation for the many transformational benefits that this innovative suite of methods can provide.
Agile represents a radical deviation from traditional, siloed project management processes. It does away with legacy systems and processes, infusing flexibility and the willingness to embrace change. With a network of cross-functional teams working in tandem to deliver products and services that are closely aligned to the changing expectations from the market, Agile is guaranteed to deliver fast, optimize resources and maximize value.
The first step in adopting an Agile operating model is to set the stage, laying a foundation where flexibility, innovation and adaptability can thrive—the Agile environment. How can your organization create a fluid environment that fosters the Agile mindset and easily aligns itself with change? Let’s find out.
At its core, Agility is much more than a set of principles and processes; and in order to reap the benefits of this methodology, it’s very important to get everyone on board with the Agile mindset.
What this means, is that in order to do Agile, you must first be agile. What, exactly, does this mean?
The dictionary defines Agility as ‘the ability to move quickly and easily’. And this is indeed the essence of what being Agile is all about.
Simply stated, Agility in project management is the ability to move quickly, easily and adapt to changing circumstances. When project requirements change, the team must analyse the change and course-correct as needed so that they can keep on top of customer needs.
In order to do all this, they must be on board with the Agile mindset. As Steve Denning, author of the book The Age of Agile, put it: “(Agile) is a shift in mindset from a top-down bureaucratic hierarchical approach to a very different way of thinking about and acting in organizations. If you have don’t have the Agile mindset you are going to get it wrong.”
What this entails is a complete shift in the ways we think and the ways we do things. When the team blindly follows processes without understanding and internalising the core Agile values, the Agile transformation is unlikely to succeed.
What Makes an Agile Environment?
Agile follows four values, which inform and guide all the processes and practices in an Agile environment.
- Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
- Working software over Comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation
- Responding to change over Following a plan
As stated in the Manifesto, it’s not that the items on the right are not valued! It’s just that the items on the left are valued more, and that’s what brings about agility.
An agile environment, therefore, is one that fosters and supports a culture that encourages teams to work collaboratively toward achieving goals, while implementing the Agile framework and following its values and principles.
Agile environments help teams to be nimble, accept change and adapt to evolving requirements, thus bringing in innovation and creativity in the development lifecycle. An Agile environment will ensure that Agile values are followed.
Characteristics of Agile Environments
Agile approaches have the customer squarely in focus at all times. Customer needs are emphasized and the team’s highest priority is to satisfy the customer through quick, early deliveries of incremental value. Stakeholder feedback is solicited at every stage and is incorporated into subsequent iterations. By keeping all those who matter in the loop, customer satisfaction is guaranteed.
Agile is all about embracing change. Even late in the development cycle, if there is a change in requirements or features, the team should retract their steps and accommodate the change, rather than stick to a rigid, predefined plan. The team is required to be nimble, adapt and pivot to embrace new, evolving circumstances.
Leaving room for innovation
Agile does not apply a cookie cutter method to project management; rather, it allows room for flexibility and innovation. Agile teams work in close collaboration, brainstorming to find solutions and working as a team to come up with innovative ideas. Agile fuels new ways of thinking, and comes up with brilliant, ingenuous products and services that are a cut above the competition.
Focus on process improvement
Agile methods are a natural choice for projects where high quality is a key focus. Agile techniques help teams to improve their processes in a continual cycle, where they inspect, reflect and adapt themselves at the end of each iteration. Process improvement events such as Reviews and Retrospectives are built into each cycle, and teams enhance and deliver value at every stage.
The iterative approach taken by Agile focuses on delivering incremental value in stages, rather than all at once in the end as was the case with traditional processes. Each iteration is timeboxed, typically with 2-week cycles, and there is a release of value at the end of each cycle. The product is therefore successively refined and its quality is continually enhanced.
Agile teams all work together collaboratively toward a shared common goal. They do this through shared responsibilities and accountability to deliver products of value and high quality, as a team. Right from defining tasks and estimating effort to developing, testing and releasing, the team is closely aligned with each other in meeting the shared objectives.
Examples of Agile Environments
An example of an organization that has successfully adopted the concept of an Agile environment is Google. Google’s Mountain View office houses workspaces that are fluid, with plenty of space for functional collaboration. With less space allocated to individuals and more space designed around collective teams, Google teams have a positive, exciting workspace that is fluid and dynamic and supports creating value together.
Communal tables in open spaces encourage stand-up meetings, while project rooms on the periphery have tools for group workshops. Teams can use dedicated team rooms with writable wall surfaces and display areas where brainstorming sessions can take place.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Salesforce and other forward-thinking organizations have also recognized the importance of providing their employees with creative, collaborative infrastructure and spaces that will help foster innovation and fuel productivity.
How to Create an Agile Physical Environment
An organization that wants to go agile can start by offering a conducive environment; one that equips its workforce with the right physical infrastructure and tools. They can do this in several ways:
A collocated team that is able to hold face-to-face conversations is in the best position to collaborate well. When teams are in the same physical space, trust is enhanced, communication is encouraged, and transparency is the result. A workspace should ideally have no hierarchy at all, with open-plan workstations that allow people to collaborate more easily. They can get clarifications at once instead of waiting for online responses, and can help each other when they find themselves in a tough spot.
However, in today’s world collocation of teams is not always an option. Teams that are distributed across geographies and time zones can take advantage of online collaboration tools such as Teams, ProofHub, Trello, Asana and so on to stay on the same page and keep in touch on a real-time basis.
Set up a dedicated physical space
Teams that are in the same location will perform better when they have a dedicated team room where they can work together in close proximity. One wall can be set up with whiteboards and pin up boards for team collaboration, mapping of tasks and so on. The space can be set up to boost productivity; workstations around the edge of the room and a conference table in the middle will work well.
Keep the team safe from distractions
Any outside distractions, such as interference from management, consults on other projects, and so on will throw the team off track and greatly hinder progress. It is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to smoothen any and all such obstructions, and some of the ways in which this can be done are listed here:
- Avoid multitasking
- Work on one goal at a time
- Let the team figure out who works on what
- Block any outside distractors
Distractions will drain the team’s focus and result in wasted time, energy and effort.
Equip the team with the right tools
There is no dearth of productivity-enhancing tools that can help a team stay on track with respect to schedules, budget and resources. Some tools that will enhance the team’s productivity and boost progress are:
As hundreds of organizations have found to their delight, an Agile transformation results in real and lasting positive impact. When done right, Agile can empower organizations to outpace the competition, adapt to changing market scenarios, work on innovative solutions to everyday problems, and continuously maximize value.