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Should your organization transition to agile practices in project management?

In an earlier article, we discussed the pros and cons of using the traditional waterfall method versus the agile practices in project management. Is your company willing to change methodologies to reach its goals? If you do decide that agile practices will better align your projects under development, what would transitioning to agile look like?

Initially adopted for software development, “agile methodologies—which involve new values, principles, practices, and benefits and are a radical alternative to command-and-control-style management—are spreading across a broad range of industries and functions,” according to a 2015 Harvard Business Review piece. This has only increased since then, with a range of companies transitioning from the top-down approach to agile practices.

The benefits of agile project management approach are better success rates in bringing a product to market with a higher quality and shorter time frame. And team members’ motivation and productivity will likely see a boost, too.

But change takes change, and a smooth transition to a transformative approach like agile means bringing team members, both individually and collectively, on board to embrace the new methodology.

It’s not essential to effect a complete overhaul to the agile methodology. What agile practices make the most sense for your project? Transitioning to agile practices for select teams, functions or processes, or product development is not only possible, but it allows change to be introduced in phases. To adopt the agile methodology in targeted areas, first review your current practices to see where a change makes sense and/or can be the starting point for a more comprehensive transition.

Transitioning to agile is not just a change in culture and approach but also deciding which type of agile practices make the most sense based on an organization’s current practices and culture. But, whichever agile practice you adopt, these three rules hold true:

  1. Create multidisciplinary teams. Customer-focused teams that manage themselves and contain cross-functional roles accelerate profit and growth, while also building management skills for the next generation of company leaders.

  2. Educate executive leadership. Because agile is a change from a top-down approach, executives should learn to adopt a more hands-off approach. Requesting frequent meetings with agile teams or team members slows development, as does overturning team decisions, adding review steps and forcing teams to revisit ideas already rejected before an executive suggested it. All of this erodes the exact benefits that agile practices can deliver.

  3. Create an environment where agile can flourish. With most companies today operating in a highly dynamic environment, innovation can initiate concrete results. Agile project management is based on innovation and, in turn, innovation flourishes under the agile approach. This affects not just product development but functional processes throughout the development cycle.

Within the agile methodology, there are different models, with each offering different advantages and transition challenges, including:

  • Scrum: emphasizes creative and adaptive teamwork in solving complex problems. Process facilitators guide the work of small, cross-functional teams; team priorities are ranked; “sprints” are used to complete specific tasks; and teams hold short, 15-minute daily stand-up meetings. In addition, the process is transparent to all teams and team members.

How to effect change: Quickly adopt minimally prescribed practices, even if they differ substantially from those in the rest of the organization

  • Lean development: focuses on the continual elimination of waste. This is a process-oriented approach that seeks to optimize the entire system in place and engage everyone in the organization.. There are no prescribed rules or roles.

How to effect change: Respect current structures and processes, and stress agile values throughout the organization while minimizing resistance.

  • Kanban: centers on reducing lead times and the amount of work in process. Similar to lean development, there are no prescribed team roles. Also, work rules are simple: begin with what you know; visualize the project workflow and stages; set limits to the work in process at each development phase; and first measure and then improve cycle times.

How to effect change: Respect structures and processes currently in use while improving visibility into workflows and implementing gradual, collaborative change.

Keep in mind that the current practices and company culture often point to which agile practice will have the most success:

  • Transitioning to scrum suits organizations with a creative culture and high levels of trust and collaboration.

  • Transitioning to lean development works well for process-oriented companies where teams prefer evolutionary improvements with overarching values but no prescribed practices.

  • Transition to kaban is favorable for process-oriented organizations that, in general, don’t favor prescribed practices and prefer improvement to occur in an evolutionary way.

Each of these agile processes can be explored more in depth to see which is the right approach for your organization. As agile practices grew out of software development, they are of most benefit to organizations that have similar conditions:

  • The problem to be solved is complex.

  • Solutions are initially unknown.

  • Product requirements will most likely change.

  • The work can be modularized.

  • Close collaboration with end users (and rapid feedback from them) is feasible.

  • Creative teams will typically outperform command-and-control groups.

Product development functions, marketing projects, strategic planning, supply-chain challenges and resource allocation are all well-suited for agile processes. And, while agile doesn’t solve everything, Boost Midwest finds that assessing an organization’s overall culture, product cycle phases, function processes and leadership’s openness to innovation and change are the first places to begin. Project management can be complex; Boost Midwest can help.

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Ready to learn more about how Boost Midwest can help you optimize your project management and operations? Schedule your free consultation call with us today using our Quick Schedule Link here.

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