Wednesday 24 June 2015

Reflections - The Application of Agility

I was recently in Poland, taking a financial IT consultancy’s high potential group through the hoops of Realising Ambition’s action-learning Leadership Academy programme when the concept of Agile software development came up.  I have always been intrigued to understand more about what Agile, Scrum, Sprinting etc all meant in practice - seemed liked new concepts introduced since my COBOL programming days back at a time I don’t wish to mention.

Without going off on too much of a tangent here, what was particularly interesting was the concept of the weekly, or sometimes daily, 15 minute stand up meeting around which a lot of this process revolves.  The idea is that each team member says what they have achieved since the last meeting (preferably compared to what they said they would achieve at the last meeting), what they intend to achieve in the next period, how they will achieve those outputs and what may get in the way of doing that.  It is left to one-to-one conversations afterwards to work through how to remove any obstacles.  The team we were training loved these meetings, suffered badly when they did not happen and immediately saw how this fitted with the Realising Ambition training philosophy of accountability and results orientation.

So what you may be asking?  The "so what" for me is that it is a process that we used at the telecoms consultancy I led on a weekly basis on operations management and sales pipeline review calls amongst our partner group.  We had realised quite early on that there was some value in focusing on what had happened and making us all feel bad about missed targets or good about beating others but we all pretty much knew that without needing a call on the subject with our peers.  We focused much more on forecasting what we thought we could achieve and identifying where each of us could help others push forward to turn those forecasts into reality.  We called it the "Last Week, This Week, Next Week" routine and we provided lots of underpinning metrics to help the discussions along.  Whenever issues cropped up we knew we had a rapid and flexible way of solving them or finding new opportunities and ways of succeeding.

I didn’t know this was called Agile, but just before the Poland training trip I had started to introduce this concept into my coaching sessions with a couple of key clients.  Their issues were around how to prioritise competing demands on their time, ensure strategic initiatives got delivered and they found time to simultaneously deliver client work and develop new business.  Once my clients had identified their 6 months objectives, translated those back into 3 month targets it was a small step to realise that the way to embed them in the day-to-day bustle of client calls, emails and general mayhem was to keep the "Last Week, This Week, Next Week” structure in mind and for my clients to hold themselves accountable each week for assessing how well they were doing.  

Not only did they end up dropping some work that turned out not to fit with their objectives, delegate other responsibilities (upward and downward), bring in staff to take workload off them but they also increased their attention on areas of high impact but previously ignored areas, e.g., getting out and networking, recognising they were in control of deliverables and no-one else was creating obstacles.  Greater self-awareness married to a firmer accountability structure led to clarity and a much stronger completer-finisher mentality.  Ultimately, that breeds confidence which in turn breeds the ability to achieve outstanding results where before excuses stood in the way.

What it also allowed was easy identification of successes and reasons to celebrate. Fun and satisfaction leads to increased productivity and effectiveness too.  

Not everyone responds well to the weekly drum-beat described above, but please look at ways such a structure could be applied to your own situation.  So many performance issues and perceptions of drifting boil down to time management and prioritisation challenges - what framework could you use to break down any barriers to personal effectiveness?  If it is not this, what is your alternative planning philosophy?  How do you avoid never quite fully reaching the targets you have set yourself and your team?  How do you ensure that strategy actually gets implemented as planned and not 6 months later if at all?  What common language do you use to ensure effective cross-team collaboration?

I came to rely on this discipline in my multi-faceted pluralist existence - even got to the point of pretending my wife was my boss and sending her reports on how well I was doing.  No comments on the boss thing please but it was clear she never read or had any interest in these reports but at least it got me into the routine and my professional life was transformed as a result.  I don’t do it religiously now, but it was the tool that enabled a transformation in my working style and portfolio management processes - it is now there in the subconscious supporting me give all my various clients and companies the quality of service they deserve.  I hope!

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