It is not uncommon to read guides about implementing agile project management into your company and changing up how your team gets work done. However, it is hard to know where to go when you don’t know what your final destination looks like.
You may feel like your agile system implementation is never done, especially when you compare your organization to those that have fully embraced agile project management and are able to focus on maintaining their systems rather than transitioning to new ones. Still, if implemented correctly, you can reap the benefits sooner than you realize.
This is what you can expect from an implemented agile system that only needs routine updates.
What Does Success in Agile Look Like?
Agile project management comes with more benefits than just efficient projects and happy customers. While those two goals are the dreams of most owners and executives, there are other benefits your company will notice when your team successfully embraces agile project management.
These “side perks” include finding and solving issues faster and having clearer priorities, writes certified project management professional Ralph Sacco. Plus, agile workplaces are less resistant to change. And because employees feel connected to the organization and have more control over their career paths, they’re more resilient when problems arise or something needs to change.
Additionally, when implemented well, agile project management should allow teams to prevent burnout, says marketer Jug Babic. While there will be times when employees have to work late and face stressful situations, most will feel more comfortable pushing themselves in shorter, two-week or 21-day iterations than if they constantly worked toward quarterly or end-of-year reviews.
“The business climate today is dynamic and complex,” explains the team at agile project management software provider Nutcache. “Apart from the pressure of fast turnaround demands, small businesses also face the challenges posed by tight budgets and fewer resources. It is therefore essential for them to optimize every aspect of business, especially project management.”
Companies can’t use agile to solve one problem with project deliveries or budgets. They need to take a high-level view of their organization and find solutions that solve multiple problems. For many companies, agile has become that solution.
Successful Agile Includes the Acceptance of Hybrid Systems
Companies that implement agile systems often use hybrid models during the transition. It is up to executives and managers to decide whether the company needs to shed its hybrid system and become fully agile or accept the hybrid as the best option for their processes.
Many experts in the field have railed against “Scrummerfall” or “WaterScrum” management style, which combines scrum with waterfall management, while others have said that having a combined system works best for them.
“Stop finding fault with the differing processes and find some common ground,” advises agiles consultant Yvette Francino. “The methodology process wars must end and, instead, the teams must focus on providing value for the customer. There must be an attitude across the organization that the teams are working together, not against each other.”
Jerry Iannelli, PMP, provides a clear description of what a hybrid project management approach looks like. In this case, waterfall management is used to guide overarching projects and bigger ideas in the organization. Then, agile management is used to assemble smaller building blocks.
In fact, successful hybrid processes often come from organizations that require teams to deal with hardware and software. They develop plans based on what they have to work with, not necessarily the ideal, explains agile coach Johan Karlsson. “The driver behind the method mixing in these cases is...the realization that many aspects of hardware development benefit from Waterfall processes, whereas software development has much to gain from an Agile approach,” he writes.
It is easy for teams to feel insecure because other companies use a more advanced or different model, but at the end of the day, what matters is that the work gets done efficiently.
Agile Teams Are More Resilient and Ready for Change
As mentioned earlier, teams that embrace agile are more resilient and adaptable to change. This isn’t because of agile itself, but rather because of the types of employees that thrive in an agile environment.
According to Angie Malerba at technology platform Catalant, agile management focuses on the unique skills of employees, rather than the specific roles that they would fall into. Instead of “marrying people to ongoing roles with little strategic flexibility,” employees can pick up work where they are needed and push themselves to learn more and advance their knowledge to get the work done.
In a perfect agile world, this willingness to jump in increases the speed and number of solutions for problem solving.
“When something needs to be corrected, immediate action is taken,” says tech writer John Porter. “Complaining and trying to route issues to designated channels only become part of the problem instead of becoming part of the solution.” Instead of pushing items onto other people and focusing on processes, people with an agile mindset find the best fit for the solution.
According to a 2018 report by McKinsey, agile is creating a “war for talent,” in some organizations. “As creative knowledge- and learning-based tasks become more important, organizations need a distinctive value proposition to acquire—and retain—the best talent, which is often more diverse,” they write.
These employees are called “learning workers,” and come from diverse origins and have different career goals. They are eager to pick up new skills and go where they are needed — and enjoy that type of work more than sticking to one task every day.
The success of agile maintenance and growth also has to do with your employees and their cultural backgrounds. For example, agile expert Rachel Burger references Gallup data that shows millennial workers want more feedback and personal development opportunities than past generations. Agile development allows for that. Teams should provide regular feedback in the scrum setting, and the “learning worker” policies of agile allow employees to grow their skills and knowledge of both the organization and the industry.
Agile Project Management Makes Companies Less Hierarchical
One of the biggest changes that companies experience as their agile maturity grows isn’t with employees, but with leadership.
Norberts Erts, cofounder of CakeHR, says agile teams will change the hierarchy of organizations. Instead of funneling every decision through management, teams will work closely with customers in small networks and have more control over decision making. Meanwhile, instead of expecting management to simply oversee people, leaders will become connectors. They will find top talent and resources for a project and bring it to the groups that need those resources the most.
Erts also cites a study that found 63 percent of respondents blamed the clash between the business culture and agile philosophy for a failed agile implementation, which proves that leadership can make or break the success of agile adoption.
“No matter how extensive the rollout training was, it likely did not reach all of the stakeholders who need to understand and embrace the new way of working—in operations, HR, legal, finance and accounting, sales, marketing, and more,” explains the team at Scaled Agile.
Leadership is at the core of continuous agile improvement. If managers and department heads aren’t practicing and improving their agile systems, then companies are doomed to revert to more traditional management methods.
This also means that processes and decisions by the executive team need to be made with the same evaluation processes and risk assessment as the rest of the company. While many executives expect their teams to stick with clear agile processes, they themselves continue to make decisions through ad hoc groups, political meetings and closed-door discussions, say Erik Larson, founder of business decision software platform Cloverpop, and Michael de la Maza, author of “Why Agile Works.”
Even the best companies that are agile can still get derailed by poor leadership and executive decision-making.
The Organization’s Culture Changes as a Whole
When all is said and done, mature agile development doesn’t just change how projects are managed, it affects the whole corporate culture. It affects who is hired and who stays at the company, how leadership manages staff and how problems are overcome.
“The Agile method is more suitable in situations where customers and project stakeholders are available to provide input, functional portions of software are needed quickly, flexibility is desired to accommodate changing requirements, and the team is co-located and able to effectively collaborate,” explains the team at Smartsheet.
While agile acceptance might be welcomed at first, companies often run into roadblocks and bad habits if the team is unused to regular check-ins or the business isn’t built in a way where people can reach each other easily.
Agile, at its core, is a talent-based system. You can have all of the processes in the world in place but won’t see success unless your team is fully trained and on board with what is required of them.
“Without learning and talent development strategies in place to support the people and relationships on which agile success depends, you will see a disappointing return on your investment,” Pamela Meyer, author of “The Agility Shift,” says.
Companies able to adapt to the changes of agile will have an easier time fully adopting the framework throughout the organization. By following the principles of teamwork, delegation and employee empowerment, your team members can be prepared for whatever project management process the company decides to use.