5 lessons for companies to become more agile

Thought leaders at the Agile Australia conference share their insights into what really drives agility in a digital-first organisation

The globally competitive landscape is putting pressure on organisations to find innovative and more rapid-fire ways to improve their products and service offerings. One principle and practice helping to achieve this is a sustainable agile environment.

Keynote speakers at this year’s 2015 Agile Australia conference in Sydney revealed their top lessons around building a successful agile environment and culture.

1. Embrace evangelism

According to independent consultant and chief operating officer of The Hillside Group, Linda Rising, corporate evangelism is one of the key drivers to creating an agile organisation. She stressed ‘agile’ is a belief system and not a ‘placebo’, and said that just because one method of agility works for one organisation, it doesn’t mean it will deliver the same productivity for you.

“In the beginning, you have no scientific proof that your idea will work, but what you do have is your belief that the idea is good and that it will work for your organisation,” she said. “Most people who decide to go agile, don’t look at the scientific studies, because there are none.”

2. Change is in the little things

At the heart of being agile is adopting a learning cycle, Rising said. But rather than being pre-occupied with large changes, she recommended always conducting smaller-scale experiments to improve both yourself and your organisation.

“We all want to have big goals, when really it is about tiny, little steps,” she said. “It’s the little things that can ultimately make a big difference to an organisation’s success. Just try some very small thing and stop, look around, take some time to reflect on where you’re having little successes and build on them. “Take another baby step around those little successes and then repeat. Do that over and over - it never ends. If you’re agile, you should continually learn.”

3. Tread carefully with coercion

For Rising, coercion can work against agility as it can result in strict compliance and works against a long-term vision to be adaptable to change.

“The problem with an initiative that has coercion behind it is that it is very short-lived and is not effective,” she claimed. “It actually raises resistance and you never get believers – you never get hearts. The pattern is called personal touch – why should I do this? What is in it for me, what is the benefit to me personally?”

4. Reduce the fear factor

Taking out the fear factor, combined with listening, respect and being more open, are powerful ingredients in leading an effective agile environment, Rising said.

“In some organisations, I’ve seen agile introduced as just an excuse for firing a lot of managers so their fears were justified,” she added. “You never influence anybody by showing how stupid they are, you influence people by making them feel good and appreciated and you do that by respecting what they have to say.”

5. It is all about teamwork

For thought leader and agile software developer, James Shore, an agile organisation needs to invest wisely in its ‘agile fluency model’ in order to be able to change direction, be truly adaptive and respond to the market.

“Teams tend to grow in a certain way,” he said. “Some teams are fluent at focusing on value. They’re able to discuss what they’re doing from a business perspective rather than a technical perspective. They’re able to change direction when requested and provide a lot of transparency on what is going on.”

According to Shore, the agile fluency model works on a tiered ‘star’ system, with a one-star model focusing on value, a two-star model delivering on value, a three-star system optimising on value and a four-star system optimising for systems.

“Fluency of your team depends on your organisation,” he said. “But fluency at any of these levels is a good thing. Just choose what is right for you. As your teams develop proficiency they will grow in fluency. Decide what investments you need to make and go out and make some progress.”

Shore also recommended creating a shared workspace or team room structure isolated from the rest of the workspace so team members can respond promptly to each other and communicate effectively.

“If you can put people together in a shared workspace, you can see a lot of benefits from it in terms of agility,” he said. “If you’re distributed, a virtual space is just as effective.”

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