How to reap the much-hyped benefits of Agile

How to reap the much-hyped benefits of Agile

Listening to Ciarán Hanway and Ian Johnson’s webinar “Becoming Agile – Building better, delivering sooner” made me reflect on a number of my experiences working in both agile, waterfall and hybrid environments, and the common challenges that organisations from all sectors and sizes run into.

We work with clients in both public and private sector organisations to either identify and enable improvements in how digital transformation is delivered, or by accelerating that transformation through the provision of highly experienced teams that embed themselves within these organisations to tackle difficult digital challenges.

The true success of our work, however, is measured through our clients’ ability to drive continuous improvement long after we’ve left the building. This can only happen if everyone understands what the aim of agile practices are, and if they are agile, rather than simply doing it. Ciarán and Ian referenced the brilliant cargo-cult tale from the South Pacific Island of Melanesia in demonstrating this point, and I’ve seen this pattern of thinking on many occasions in organisations struggling to reap the much-hyped benefits of Agile.

The most recurring example I’ve come across is in the application of ceremonies, a key part of the SCRUM methodology and usually the first thing that an organisation does when it wants to “go agile”.

Starting with the daily stand-up; does the team report to themselves? Do the teams truly self-organise, help to alleviate others’ blockers and balance workload across the team? Or do they list the meetings they’ve attended in the previous day and hope their scrum master won’t ask too many questions about the state of their JIRA tickets?

At the end of a sprint show and tell; something considered sacrosanct to delivery managers and seniors within the organisation, and a ceremony that be an extremely powerful tool to learn, engage and motivate the team. However, without buy-in and understanding of its true purpose, this ceremony become an overheard in the team’s diary, something that they dread coming up at the end of every sprint. An ill-attentive audience, one way communication and too much focus on story-point output are habits that many programmes can fall into.

The end of sprint retrospective exemplifies one of the core tenants of the Agile Framework[1] when done well. But how often are actions from the retrospective actually carried forward? Are new things trialed? Measured? Assessed and adapted? See[2] for more information on how to run a good retrospective.

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