Agility has been on everyone’s lips for some years now. More and more companies want to adopt an agile approach because they expect to be able to adapt their processes, organization or IT more flexibly and quickly in order to respond better to customer requirements, market adjustments and general conditions. This raises the question of whether agility per se can be seen as the panacea for change processes or whether there are projects for which the classic waterfall method is better suited.
Agility is a concept based on the guiding principles and values formulated in 2001 by a group of software developers as the “Agile Manifesto”. The focus is on the development of customer-oriented solutions and the ability to adapt to changing conditions in the course of the project.
The Stacey matrix reveals which agile method makes sense
The so-called Stacey matrix can be used to determine which method is appropriate for which project. It classifies the complexity of a project according to the requirements and the targeted technology. Agile methods are suitable both for the reorganization of entire companies (“agile transformation”) and for the realization of complex projects in which unknown or volatile variables require constant readjustment. A product whose characteristics are only partially determined at the start of development would be a banking app, for example. The developers first deliver a ready-to-use minimum viable product (MVP). This is continuously developed in iterative individual steps, taking into account any changes in corporate and market conditions as well as the customer’s perspective.
Projects or situations in which the intended technical solution is as clear as the requirements, the Stacey matrix classifies as simple. Since only a few, easily manageable corrections are to be expected in such cases, classic project management is to be preferred here.
This applies, for example, to areas with firmly defined framework conditions, such as the implementation of legal requirements. Incomplete “prototypes/preliminary versions” offer little added value in these cases, since the end result is already clearly defined at the beginning and hardly any changes in requirements are to be expected during the course of the project. Similarly, for recurring tasks in day-to-day business or ad hoc activities such as support requests that need to be handled independently, the use of Scrum does not seem helpful. Here, a waterfall or alternatively a Kanban approach is preferable, since these are basically simple and not complex activities.
In contrast, an agile approach, for example according to Scrum, is obvious if the result can be created in stages (in the technical jargon: incrementally). This means that work is done in fixed intervals (“sprints”, e.g. fortnightly), in which the product is expanded by additional functions, so that at the end of each sprint there is a ready-to-use version containing all the functions developed since the start of the project.
The impact levels of agility are people, communication, leadership, organization, culture and technology
In an agile restructuring (“transformation”) of an organization, the six impact levels of agility must be observed and implemented accordingly.
The most important part of setting up an agile organization is the people. This initially includes the selection of suitable employees who, on the one hand, fit the intended position in the agile set-up professionally and, on the other hand, have a fundamental willingness to work in an agile manner. This “casting” requires a longer lead time, especially in order to carry out the necessary training. A hectic pace can easily lead to hasty decisions such as miscasts, which can disrupt cooperation within the agile teams, diminish acceptance of the new form of work, and revive old roles or behavioral patterns.
Effective communication is characterized by early action and transparency. Anyone reforming a company should take the staff’s fear of upheaval in their daily work seriously and address it before it causes passive resistance. A clear goal and roadmap will help gain the trust of the workforce. To anchor agile thinking and working in people’s minds, its fundamentals, structures, tasks and processes must be communicated comprehensively. Among other things, it must be clear that new role titles do not serve to relabel old positions, but arise from a reorientation in terms of content and methodology.
Leadership is also important in this context. Management must set an example of agile values. Managers should strengthen their employees’ sense of responsibility and encourage them to act on their own initiative. This requires managers to be willing to delegate decisions. Managers must undergo the transformation from classic supervisor to “servant leader.” This means a manager who serves the organization and other individuals in his or her actions.
In the context of an agile transformation, it makes sense to break up the organizational structure and set it up anew. Often, this involves setting up a matrix organizational structure with regard to products and/or services. In addition, some agile or hybrid organizations establish cross-divisional teams that are dedicated to special activities such as testing, for example. It is also advisable to flatten the corporate hierarchy. Teams should be reorganized to counteract the persistence of old structures.
A culture of trust and respect is to be created. Cultural change also includes the introduction of a positive culture of making mistakes and learning (“fail fast, fail often”). Those who are allowed to fail learn faster and deliver better results in the end.
Another factor is technology. The introduction of agility is often accompanied by digitization, such as the introduction of new hardware and software (e.g. Jira) or the automation of processes.
Agile collaboration with external parties
Agile working and contracts for work and services can represent a conflict of objectives
Another aspect of agile transformation is the drafting of contracts with external service providers. In the case of projects that are carried out by external companies, e.g., software development, it is important to note when drafting the contract that agile working and contracts for work and services can represent a conflict of objectives. This is because agile working makes sense when the cost and time components are fixed, but the scope is variable. However, this is not the case with classic contracts for work and services, where a result is agreed to be fixed while costs and time are variable. Here, there is a risk that scope discussions will arise toward the end of the project if the client and the external service provider interpret the predefined project result differently. This can lead to project duration and costs deviating significantly from the original estimates.
If a contract for work and services is unavoidable, an MVP should be agreed upon
If a contract for work and services is required, it makes sense to agree on a project duration, a project budget and an MVP (minimum viable product). In this case, the variability of the scope required for agile working is achieved by recording everything that goes beyond the MVP, for example in the form of individual user stories (requirements), and implementing them with the remaining budget after completion of the MVP. In this case, a product owner (person responsible for the product/service in Scrum), who should be based in the client’s company, decides on prioritization during implementation. Thus, the project ends with a finished product in the sense of the client, delivered within the defined cost and time frame.
An alternative way to regulate agile external services by contract for work is to commission each sprint individually after a start-up phase on the basis of a mutually agreed effort estimate. To minimize the administrative effort, the duration of the sprints in such a scenario should be four weeks.
Agility is more than a buzzword. It offers great potential to get more out of your business, but only with thoughtful implementation.
The introduction of agile working requires thorough preparation. This consists of bringing about a change in the minds of the employees. It is important to “bring along” all employees and to address needs and fears individually.
We at Consileon have extensive experience in the agile environment and in change management. We have already been able to accompany several well-known companies on their way to agility. Contact us!
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