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Three ways to bring agility to your work

Agile is having a moment in organisations around the world. And for good reason. We’ve found that “the top 10 per cent of businesses by financial performance are almost 30 per cent more likely to display agile characteristics.

Although most of us aren’t in a position to make decisions about how our companies work, we do have autonomy over our spheres of influence. And, when you focus on agility, there are small ways to unleash big value without institutional buy-in. By regularly reviewing how your team works, systematically prioritising your work, and focusing on delivering value to customers incrementally, you can maximise your agility and the agility of your team.

1. Regularly reflect with your team

For teams that continuously work together, a formal, regular meeting to review ways of working will have a profound impact on overall performance. In agile, this ‘retrospective’ happens every other week and offers an opportunity for the entire team to candidly review:

      • what went well
      • what could improve
      • how to improve it.

The first preserves positive aspects you don’t want to lose, while the latter two help identify and resolve potential problems.

While we recommend managers and team leaders join their team in these conversations, they can only do so by adopting a servant-leadership role. That means asking the team: “How can I help make you more successful? How can I help you overcome your greatest impediments?” And leaders must ensure honest feedback doesn’t result in retaliatory behaviour.

When managing a nascent team of diverse and geographically dispersed experts from across multiple pharmaceutical companies, we implemented retrospectives to accelerate their teambuilding process. These structured conversations quickly matured their ways of working so that, after only four months, they were working as a long-established team.

To get retrospectives going for your team, schedule a bi-weekly meeting to discuss the three questions listed above. Make sure people know this isn’t a status update meeting and that it should focus on team dynamics rather than inter-team or organisational problems. Finish your meeting with a clear set of actions and owners based on your conversations, and begin the next meeting by reviewing your progress. As the team sees results coming from these meetings, they’ll buy into the idea and the flywheel of teambuilding begins.

2. Prioritise your work based on value and effort

“How do I do more with less?” It’s the question of the age. When you start asking this question, you’re on a slippery slope to burnout. Agile offers an alternative and more sustainable question: “How can I deliver the greatest value in the shortest amount of time?”

Agile encourages individuals, teams and organisations to ruthlessly prioritise their activities. Rather than simply overfilling people’s to-do lists and expecting miracles to accomplish goals, agile forces conversations about what needs to get done and the trade-offs required to accomplish these goals.

To structure prioritisation decisions and facilitate conversation, we use a tool called Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). WSJF measures an activity based on the cost of delaying the activity and the overall duration of the activity. Specifically, it weighs a deliverable’s value, ability to enable other projects and intrinsic risks against the estimated time of the activity. As a result, the tool prioritises high-value, small effort activities.

We used this tool at a financial services company, helping them realise some quicker wins beyond the larger scale, longer term projects that had captured their imaginations. While they didn’t forego the larger projects, the tool incentivised them to break down big projects into smaller ones they could deliver faster. It also opened conversations about the longer-term priorities of the organisation.

To improve prioritisation in your organisation, take stock of your personal backlog of responsibilities and projects. Prioritise these activities and deliverables based on WSJF and use this prioritisation to start conversations with your team and manager. Make this a living document and a constant conversation over 2020.

Did you know the top 10% of financial performers are 30% more agile than the rest?

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3. Deliver work incrementally

To be truly agile, you must deliver value to the customer early and often. Customers want to see and touch their products. Agile teams must focus on delivering minimum viable products (MVP) using the smallest amount of effort and money to test a hypothesis as they de-risk projects and deliver value to the customer. Then, agile teams can refine the product and add non-essential features based on real-world user feedback.

When leading an agile transformation for a national healthcare provider, we developed training materials using this MVP process. We started with a single deck that comprehensively, but at a high level, described all roles and ceremonies for the process. We then took those materials a level deeper, creating three subsequent PowerPoint decks that articulated the responsibilities of three key roles within the agile ceremonies without going into detail about how to do each task. At the end of our work with the client, we left them prepared to begin the third iteration – task-based trainings for each of the responsibilities. Importantly, we delivered valuable training materials at every stage of the process.

To start delivering incrementally, think about one of your current projects. What’s the smallest amount of work you can do that still delivers some value to your customer? Can you break it down even further? Set expectations with your customer (maybe it’s your boss or another business unit), asking for more regular feedback on the deliverables. If you think they will be frustrated by this approach, remind them of all the time spent reworking something that misses the mark.

You can make your organisation more agile

Agile is transforming the way organisations innovate and respond to changing industries. And no matter where you sit or what your role is, you can unleash your agility. Start by regularly implementing retrospectives with your team, prioritising your work based on value and effort, and delivering value incrementally based on customer feedback.

Contact the author

Contact the agile team

Sam Bunting

Sam Bunting

Stephen Hughes

Stephen Hughes

Conrad Thompson

Conrad Thompson


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