Supplement Your Work with Agile Practices
The Agile Vitamins was born from the need to help individuals and organizations adopt the right mindset for the right business context. After years of working for various organizations in different business areas, we have observed repeating patterns of behaviour that led us to understand how important business agility is in the context of constant market changes and how important it is that working professionals adopt personal agility within this context, in order to be successful at what they do.
We have witnessed teams and individuals suffer under a constant pressure that comes from a lack of direction, vision or simply from too much market change and demand. As Scrum Masters, agile coaches or just simple servant leaders, we have been talking to many professionals from the tech industry, but also from non-tech areas to understand what it is that they are missing and what their needs are in the organizations they represent.
The question: what is agility? has come up multiple times in our open discussions with teams and individuals. Buzzwords such as Kanban, Scrum, Lean Management or Design Thinking still raise eyebrows and stirr an endless flow of thoughts, perspectives and possibilities of how these frameworks and the practices they bring might help them in the way they approach their roles in organizations.
Agile is a mindset, or a collection of leadership practices that was developed by software engineers and business people and has been adopted by software development teams for more that twenty years now. But more and more, curiosity about what Agile Software Development means and how its practices can be adopted in other areas has grown among non-tech professionals around the world. Some organizations have come to adopt the agile mindset and to apply its principles in departments such as HR or People and Culture, Marketing, Sales or Office Management. Change leaders have created new ways of working because they understood that business agility (the agility of the organization as a whole) will not be achieved without agile HR, agile Marketing or agile Finance.
The agile mindset touches every aspect of the organization. It starts with the way the organization is structured into departments and teams and how management interacts throughout the structure. It is also reflected in the way the peers give feedback to eachother and with how they are motivated to grow and learn within the organization, but also outside of their working hours. It also starts with the allocation of ressources and with how effective the departments interact with each other in order to deliver customer value. Agility can spread from one department, such as Product or Engineering, but unless the culture of the organization allows for that agility to spread outside of this context, there is a high chance that organizations might be dealing with siloed agility or siloed-thinking.
Every transformation begings with the transformation of the organizational culture and of the structure, but most importantly with a shift in mindset. But do not be fooled to think that all of these aspects need to be perfectly in place before you can start thinking about agile teams and individuals. Sometimes we join organizations that do not have the right culture or mindset in order for agility to thrive. Is it a lost battle though? If you work in a traditional environment with outdated practices and structures, should you give up before you even start? Of course not! This is where you might begin to consider adding new skills and knowledge to your repertoire.
If the organization you are working for still needs to make some changes in order to deliver more value to the customer, you can be the change leader who makes the difference. And when I say leader, I do not mean it in the sense of people manager, but in the sense of self-leadership. You do not have to have a team, a department or the whole organization reporting to you in order to bring that change that organizations need. You do not need to be a Scrum Master, an agile coach or an agile manager to bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the table. All you need to do is open up to new perspectives there are out there to improve the way you and your team work.
Depending on what aspect of your work you might want to focus on, you can choose from an enormous palette of tools, techniques and approaches to achieve great results. If you are at the beginning of a project and you still need to validate some ideas or test some hypotheses, you might be interested in Design Thinking practices and techniques. Running a Design Sprint might be a bit more ressource-consuming and intense, but you might end up with some very good directions and solutions for the problems you are trying to solve. Creating personas and affinity maps might help you identify the most burning needs and desires of your users. You do not need to be a designer or a user researcher to want to understand your consumers’ needs. You might be a sales professional interested in improving the user experience of your customers and you might choose to run a design thinking workshop to explore solutions and possibilities.
Knowing when to change strategies and directions is not just something that a product manager might deal with. Ideas coming from sales or marketing teams feed the product backlog that product teams and engineers guide their work by. Collaboration and coordination between multiple teams and areas of specialization is crucial in developing the right product. This is where Lean Startup practices and approaches will come in handy. If you embrace the Lean principle of avoiding waste, you will learn how to deliver the mininum value to your customer with a minimal use of time and ressources.
Understanding agile leadership and management and working with it to help direct your teams towards great results is no longer — if it ever was — a matter of role or position. At the heart of agile lie self-disciplined teams that drive change on their own, without being told how exactly to solve problems. High-performing employees are professionals that work hand-in-hand with the management to achieve the results that organizations aim for. They are the ones who drive topics forward without being pushed to do so. They naturally apply the Kanban pull principle, according to which team members pull the work that they then are responsible for and own.
Once a great idea is sent to production and engineering teams take over to implement it in an iterative and incremental manner, the whole organization contributes to the small improvements that come with every increment. Knowing how to work efficiently with software teams and product owners and in which way to contribute to great results and satisfied customers is crucial. Understanding the values behind frameworks like Scrum and behind practices from Extreme Programming conveys you with knowledge that helps improve your team dynamics, no matter where you are in the organization.
But that is just a small fraction of what you might be able to discover for yourself. The backbone of a healthy organization are the people working for it. Healthy people in body and mind can achieve almost anything they might set their mind to. A healthy mind is a mindful mind. By becoming aware of ourselves and the way we behave in our private and professional lives, we can identify those things that stand in the way of our happiness. After all, the first agile principe says: ‘’Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools’’, which clearly puts emphasis on caring and focusing on developing the people we work with, rather than caring more about the processes we adopt. If we can start by focussing on the people that form the organization and the ones that we dedicate our business to, we can say that we have laid the ground for the agile seeds to develop in.
Bottomline is: no matter where you are in the world, which team you work for, or where you are on your career path, you have the power. You have the power of your knowledge, of your experience, of your mental health. In your hands lies the choice to adopt new ways of thinking, of developing products and of doing something for the world. The agile tools and practices are sources of supplement and nourishment for your personal and professional growth. Take them as a set of playful, kind and liberating ways of approaching the work that you love to do.
And one more thing: be consistent and take your Agile Vitamins every day!