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Embedding agile working

Beyond the buzz

14 November 2019


Big data. Digital transformation. AI. No matter which industry you’re in, there is always a trending buzzword thrown around at any given time, which everyone scrambles to get on board with.


Today, the latest word on everyone’s lips (and keyboards) is ‘Agile’.


In fact, the last 12 months has seen 46% of organisations in a recent survey use an Agile or hybrid Agile approach. As a creative consulting agency, we work with many businesses who are currently implementing Agile into their ways of working and understand the role their employees play in the success or failure of this transformational shift.


So what actually is ‘working Agile’?


The problem with defining the term is that while there are consistent approaches, Agile will be used by every business in
a slightly different way. At its most basic level the process breaks down the typical long cycle of traditional projects focusing on smaller tasks laddering up to a bigger picture with a focus on weekly ‘sprints’ and collaborative.


Originally created as an approach to software development, ‘Agility’ was established to guarantee success when the environment was uncertain and turbulent – you can probably see why it’s so sought after at the moment. It was developed to be fully focused on the customer, feed back much earlier in the process, welcome changing requirements, increase collaboration, harness simplicity and bring more reflection into the working process.


All sounds pretty good right? But then what if it goes wrong? What if people reject it? These are some of the questions our clients frequently ask us – and not without reason. In fact, 63% of global respondents (from project managers to C-suite) in a recent PwC survey blamed the clash between their business’s culture and Agile’s business philosophy for failed Agile implementations.


That sounds pretty daunting, but as long as you get it right, the benefits far outweigh the risks. According to PwC research, Agile projects are 28% more successful than traditional projects and, whilst its popularity rises, more and more incoming employees will expect to work this way.


Clearly communicating with your employees is essential to ensuring its success. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering or starting to implement Agile working in your business:


  1. Starting with the ‘why’ is critical to success


It sounds simple, but identifying why Agile is the right path for your business unlocks the foundation for the rest of your internal communications.


This reason should enhance how the business sees itself and be aligned with the current strategy. If it’s completely different to how things have been done before, then it’s not going to connect with your people.


Senior leadership must be on board with the reason, and support its consistent communication throughout the business. When there’s change, there is often also usually a heavy dose of fear that comes with it. Fear from employees that it will be risky, that it will be hard to learn and – the most predominant – that it could mean the end of their career.


A compelling reason to introduce Agile working will help them understand why they should change the way they do their jobs. They have to make an emotional commitment to change; it’s important that the emotion is that of excitement rather than fear.


  1. Make sure leadership is driving the change


The leadership team needs to be shown to drive the transformation towards ‘Agility’. It’s true that some of the responsibility has to be shared with employees to drive bottom-up change, but without leadership buy-in, Agile change will fail. This often means changing the way leadership thinks, giving more ownership and permission to fail (and learn from those failures quickly) from others. It then has to be shown that leadership is on board via timely communications, working with managers


to change behaviours and processes as well as interacting with employees and facilitating two-way conversations.


  1. Employees are going to have opinions, so give them a platform to voice them


Any large-scale shift is scary and, as a company, it’s important to acknowledge that. Employees with concerns for their jobs are likely to become angry and potentially even blockers of Agile implementation.


Push communications like manager toolkits and films are great for getting the message out and letting people know about the why of change, but you can’t anticipate every question they will ask. Think about how to harness the conversation on internal social networks such as Yammer, Teams or Workplace to allow for fluid communication across the business.


This must not just be hot air and if there are valuable contributions by employees then make sure there is a process where they can be actioned. Make sure your employees feel involved so that they feel like they are part of the process of introducing and implementing Agile working.


  1. Employees will want to see proof


You can tell people that working in an Agile
way will be beneficial to them and will improve business but without proof some naysayers may find it hard to believe. This is where a structured test and learn approach comes in. It can actually pay dividends to approach your Agile culture change in an Agile fashion; collaboratively and with a focus on the end user. Sebastian Wagner, who brought ‘Agility’ into DMWA Resources said, ‘Showing concrete examples of impressive productivity gains from Agile created more and more pull from the organization’.


This doesn’t however mean that this success should be artificial – it needs to be based in reality as opposed to operating in a bubble.


  1. Your Agility obsessives are one of your greatest tools


A company’s best resource is its people and there’s something about ‘Agility’ that brings out the superfan in some – we’ve got a fair few here at RY. It would be foolish not to harness this passion, either by seeking out current ‘Agility’ experts or investing in training employees you already have, based on how influential they can be in the business. Then you need to find a way of including them in your communications. This may be through input, developing tools for them or co-creating content with them.


People will always be at the heart of the success of your business, they need to be brought along on the journey with you. This is why talking to them on a human level with empathy and transparency is key to putting your company on the path towards effective Agility.