You know agile is a journey and not a destination. You also know it’s easy to learn and difficult to master. But beyond these pithy truisms, you wonder which priorities should receive the greatest focus and how to accelerate your agile success.
A just-released report from the Scrum Alliance and the Business Agility Institute provides insights about where to go from here. Published September 28, 2020 and based on a survey of 359 organizations ranging in size from 4 people to 4,000 and covering 28 industries and 53 countries, the findings are broadly applicable.
It turns out what matters most to agile development, agile success and agile maturity are three things:
A culture of learning and experimentation
Funding based on business outcomes rather than outputs or projects
Customer-centric work processes
Flexibility is the name of the game for all of these. Exploring, failing, developing and continuously improving provide for ongoing adaptability. Budgets structured to address business needs—rather than specific work efforts allow for reallocation of funds based on changing needs. And value streams that put the customer at the center create the opportunity for changes as customer needs shift.
It’s no surprise flexibility emerged as such an important component now—given the demands to respond, react, cope and (attempt to) capitalize on all the changes wrought by the pandemic. But how can you create these kinds of flexibility? What are the ways to accomplish what still seem like ambitious goals? Here are some recommendations:
Culture Of Learning And Experimentation
Time. To accomplish a culture of learning and experimentation, you’ll need to give people the time to create and iterate. The best solutions rarely require only one attempt. You’ve heard the mantra at companies with less-than-ideal cultures “We don’t have time to do it right, but we always make time to do it over.” Avoid being that organization and be sure you’re allowing time to try, test, iterate, fail and improve.
Safety. You’ll also need to be sure people feel comfortable to make mistakes. Create psychological safety by valuing people for their unique contributions and building strong relationships among team members. If people don’t feel safe, they won’t take appropriate risks, and growth comes from trying new things. Let people know their failures won’t be damning and encourage grit, determination and successes that result from persistent effort.
Perspective. People will also be more likely to experiment and stretch when they have a sense of context. A bigger picture is motivating because it connects us to something greater than ourselves. Tap into this, by ensuring people see how their work is tied to things that matter—for colleagues, the company and customers.
Measurement. Another key finding in the report was that funding business outcomes—rather than specific projects—was predictive of organizational agility. To make this happen, you’ll need clear metrics to increase visibility across organizational systems. Assess and revise measurement practices to ensure you’ll have your finger on the pulse of the market, customer needs and your own performance, so you can adjust investments as necessary.
Customer-Centric Work Processes
Intimacy. To achieve customer centricity, a level of intimacy is important. Rather than thinking of the customer as a theoretical or distant concept, be sure teams understand who the customer is and how their experience is unique. Do this by establishing customer personas complete with names, hobbies, needs, wins and challenges—and maintain these as points of focus. Also provide the opportunity to interact with real customers—hearing their voices, seeing their faces and understanding their experiences.
Feedback. As with any strong relationship, feedback is key. Ensure regular contact and two-way communication with customers. Whether a customer is internal or external, provide them with access to the team, and invite their comments on the iterative output they receive. Plan for a high frequency of contact and the opportunity to both ask questions and exchange perspectives. This openness to customers and regular dialogues will reap benefits in terms of creating trusting relationships where development and growth can flourish.
There are plenty of requirements for agile success and agile maturity—and these can be overwhelming. But things get easier with data, and these three highest-priority elements are instructive. To foster learning and experimentation, provide time, safety and perspective. Ensure funding is flexible with clear metrics and visibility to organizational systems and performance. To embrace customers, be sure to create intimacy and encourage plenty of open communication. These strategies can help you accomplish the benefits of agile—all of which will be useful through the pandemic and beyond.