If it takes an individual 21 days or more to form a new habit, does that timescale extend when you look to change the way a whole team works? And does it take even longer when you need to take a wider set of stakeholders with you?
We’ve been reflecting on this following time spent helping teams to adopt agile ways of working, whether it’s to build software or websites, configure complex platforms, or solve other problems with an agile approach.
Much of the thinking and writing around agile addresses the “mechanics” of the process. If you're learning to solve problems using software for the first time that's great! But what if that’s not your focus? What if you’re looking to create something that’s more deep-rooted? More transformational?
Our recent Transform Academy session, “Agile for the Real World”, centred on these weightier challenges.
With a diverse group of attendees from several government departments we started the session, as we always do, by getting to understand their personal experiences of agile. Some people come to learn how they might implement the basics of agile from the ground up; others are very familiar with the techniques but are struggling with getting permission to use them.
We've known for some time that enthusiasm for a “new” method is not in itself a convincing argument to drop the way you work today. Advocates for agile can sometimes try presenting a case that agile is good because they understand it and it works for them. Enthusiasts for traditional project style working – along with its near cousin waterfall style design – would say the same of their methods. Worse still, a Scrum Master may enthuse that they can see what everyone is doing because they have tickets on a tasking board, while a project manager believes they have the same capability through their project plan.
Prince2 has for a long time been the gold standard of project management methodology for delivery in government or similar large organisations. It's a great way to learn and practice how to retain control of a project in an environment like the UK government. The CE in the acronym “PrinCE” is for “Controlled Environment”. Surprisingly, it’s here that agile can have the edge. Not because agile necessarily has better control but simply because the substantial parts of some deliveries are beyond the environment where you have much control. Examples include outside influences and behaviours – events in the world outside of your project, or user behaviour – such as a third-party technology supplier making a change without warning that breaks a function in your product (it has happened), or conversations with users uncovering that they prefer the solution you rejected weeks ago in favour of one that your boss liked. Agile is great at dealing directly with these real-world factors simply because making small changes and testing them is routine. It doesn’t require special effort like Prince2 methodologies, which dictate that you try to predict and control issues or escalate them to a higher authority to control using change and risk management.
Clients joining our workshop had plenty of examples of this challenge – and times when agile has helped them succeed “in the real world”.
During the training, we brought to life our six habits for improved agile working using a case study that shows how turning the agile handle doesn’t automatically deliver its benefits.
These foundational factors can apply to almost any team. They’re fundamental to making the delivery parts of agile work well.
One of these habits is particularly relevant to working with colleagues who are more comfortable with project management but want to get more agile: Collaboration.
Our six habits framework doesn't prescribe how you should collaborate but does say that you should all agree on how. That conversation can be very revealing and valuable.
Our summary of the key factors for success in agile includes the six habits and two other things:
Time after time we’ve found that newcomers find it hard changing to focusing on value rather than following a plan; and hard to get all stakeholders to get comfortable with seeing a product emerge iteratively.
We take the same approach to helping teams find the right ways of working for them – if you're going to make the change from traditional project to agile working – do that change iteratively and always make the (small) changes that add value.
People are more willing to change if you can meet them halfway. As a flexible framework it's quite possible to adopt parts of agile whilst retaining some project working – in the short term or possibly forever.
Make sure you remember how many times you're going to have to encourage people to change their habits.
Our next Agile for the Real World workshop will take place on Tuesday 17th January 2023, in our London office. If you'd like to join us email transformation@TransformUK.com.