Achieving More With Agile

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“In the last two years, the world changed and everyone has been forced to learn how to be effective in a remote, distributed work world. Digital tools are the critical enabler for all work now, especially that of highly collaborative, Agile teams and organizations.”

Josh Fruit | Managing Director  Accenture | SolutionsIQ

 

 

Agile is the “ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.” Agile practices enable organizations to be more resilient, flexible, and efficient. The word ‘agile’ refers to the ability to move quickly and easily. An Agile approach enables project teams to adapt faster.  

Hoylu asked Agile Coach Josh Fruit to dig into the principles of Agile in this short Q&A. Josh is a Managing Director at Accenture and the North America Customer Lead for the Business Agility practice. With Agile transformation experience ranging logistics, financial services, transportation, insurance, and e-commerce, Josh has helped executives transform how their organizations work across business and IT to deliver greater value for their employees and customers. 

 

Q: How does Agile differ from other forms of project management? 

Traditional forms of project management are typically based on a predictive approach wherein you know enough about both the problem and solution space in advance to be able to accurately predict and sequentially plan the work and timeline to complete the project. Agile, originating in the software development space, is a mindset and philosophy supported by a set of values and principles. It is rooted in the recognition that building software is inherently unpredictable, riddled with variability, and that an iterative, incremental, hypothesis-driven, customer-focused approach is better suited. Various frameworks exist that provide guidance for how to take an Agile approach to software development. 

Put simply, with Agile, one should be producing running, tested, integrated, working software every couple of weeks (or more frequently), and regularly seeking stakeholder, customer, and market feedback to support pivot or persevere decisions for the product(s) and business. In one particularly powerful example, a technology company we worked with had every product development team deliver a 10-minute demo to the CEO once a month. Each demo was an open, transparent meeting that anyone could dial into to observe. The format followed a simple pattern of: 

  • What was our hypothesis for our product or set of product capabilities? 
  • What did we build and how did we test the hypothesis (e.g. A/B testing)? 
  • What did we learn and what are our next steps? 

 

Q: What are some of the benefits of Agile and why have Agile principles gained more attention? 

Now more than 20 years since the Agile manifesto was written, the benefits of Agile are fairly well-known: better quality software, delivered early and often, with happier employees, and more delighted customers. Most organizations are well into their Agile learning journey by now, have experienced various improvements and benefits, and have maturity gaps and challenges that remain in front of them. So, the question most now wrestle with is: “How can we achieve more of the benefits than we have to date?” 

Often, we see a range of root causes holding these organizations back. Some common causes in my experience are incomplete or poorly understood and followed Agile practices, leadership understanding and active support, and complex organizational and cultural challenges that are not solved overnight. The organizations we see navigating their Agile challenges and opportunities best have a culture rooted strongly in continuous improvement as detailed in one of the twelve Agile principles: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” 

One of the most rewarding transformation experiences I have had was working with just such an organization from early in their journey to a more advanced state over the course of a few years. Their culture going back decades was rooted in continuous learning, experimentation, and adapting their ways of working. While there were plenty of deep challenges we faced, the culture, mindset, and behaviors of people at all levels was to show up curious and collaborative regardless of positional rank or functional responsibility and ownership. That made the transformation journey far easier and rewarding for everyone. 

 

Q: How do digital tools play a role in Agile? 

When I think of digital tools, I think of anything that makes our lives easier in the current age of highly distributed, creative knowledge workers. We have had the ability to work in remote, distributed fashion for over a decade, but it was often not well understood how best to enable it at scale or often culturally accepted in larger organizations. 

In the last two years, the world changed and everyone has been forced to learn how to be effective in a remote, distributed work world. Digital tools are the critical enabler for all work now, especially that of highly collaborative, Agile teams and organizations. Agile teams regularly generate, iterate, communicate, and collaborate on ideas and solutions. Whether it’s working together to define and decompose large initiatives into small batches of work, brainstorming technical solutions, roadmapping product and service capabilities, planning work at multiple levels, retrospective workshops, or writing/packaging/deploying software, digital tools can make this work more efficient and effective. 

What is exciting to me is how much more potential exists on the horizon for digital tools. Many continue to expand their integration capabilities enabling greater sharing of data, new insights, simpler work processes that are tailored for how and where teams want to work and better decision making. And many are further building in templates and capabilities that support how Agile teams work such as for lean startup, sprint planning, user story mapping, or retrospectives. Beyond that, when you consider the present and coming advancements from cloud, AI, API first, data science, virtual reality, the metaverse, and more, it’s clear we are going to see a revolution in terms of digital work, collaboration, new insights and product and service possibilities. 

 

Q: What does an Agile Coach do and what are the benefits of working with an Agile Coach? 

An Agile Coach often wears many hats day-to-day including teacher, mentor, facilitator, coach, servant leader, advisor, and even organizational therapist at times. The Agile Coach brings years of hard-won experience and expertise in the successful application of agile values, principles, patterns, and practices to aid others in their journey of learning and ultimately transformation. But the goal is not to simply teach, and certainly not to force “install” an Agile process or methodology on people. A great Agile Coach helps people and organizations discover and define their path to improvement and greater achievement to better people’s lives and the organization’s business outcomes. 

Contact Josh at josh.fruit@accenture.com and stay tuned as he answers more questions in an upcoming blog.