It’s time for agile to take on the ‘other’ IT
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. Stephen Hawking
Agile has the reputation of being an IT thing. A way of handling digital projects.
That may be where it comes from but it isn’t where it’s going.
At ThinkPlace, as we’ve gone about crafting a new approach based on leading successful transformations, we have uncovered a serendipitous fact.
Not only does agile fit brilliantly with the kind of human-centred, collaborative approach we and others have pioneered and long applied to changemaking, the combination of agile with these tools and mindsets is a force multiplier.
It makes everything so much better.
We’ve been so excited by the potential of this pairing that we’ve built a new service around deploying agile methods to supercharge ‘the other IT’:
In honour of its namesake the new IT invites you to take a look at the way you are handling change in your organisation and reboot. To turn it off and turn it on again.
Stephen Hawking famously said intelligence was about adapting to change. We say it’s also about predicting and being ready for what will happen next. Both things matter. The ideas, the structure and the rhythm of agile workflow are ideally suited to the kinds of challenging transformations that leaders and organisations are required to embark on now and in the coming future. But they are only part of the picture.
The Agile part matters
Agile emerged two decades ago, when a group of software developers, frustrated by the process of running large projects, committed to creating a better way.
Their frustration, at least partly, lay with a rigidly inflexible way of making things that prioritised command and control. Flaws that could have been identified at many stages in a project became baked in as team members stuck faithfully to a pre-determined schedule and a pre-ordained outcome. Failure points often became apparent only after a finished product had been released to the market.
The methodology they devised in response prizes empowered teams, progressive design and release, ritualised opportunities to reflect, constant visibility of progress, and a rapid cycle of prototyping, experimenting, learning and iterating. These characteristics also make Agile an excellent method for driving other kinds of transformation.
Agile gives us a cadence, a way of organising the rhythm and structure of a project that delivers maximum responsiveness and allows us to adapt the end product as the size and shape of the challenges morphs and changes. Agile drives change.
But we are not the only people out there using this kind of workflow to run complex change processes. So what is different about the way we do it?
Agile isn’t everything
Agile is often presented as a way of organising or timetabling any project, as if it was agnostic about what the project actually is. We don’t think that’s quite right.
To be effective as a change method beyond its technology roots, participants in an agile process need to combine it with other forms of knowledge and practice. That means understanding:
How evidence and data are brought together in the agile cycle: We want a creative process that departs from ‘business as usual’ but that does not mean decoupling from evidence-based sensemaking at the outset. How do we collect the right data and use it to glean meaningful insights? How might we balance quantitative data that sheds light on the problem with qualitative insights from those who experience the system involved? These parts of a major change are given additional focus when placed upfront in an agile workflow.
How to prototype changes, test, revise and scale up: Starting small reduces risk and allows for creativity and breakthrough ideas to gain traction. A prototyping mindset uses innovative methods for rapidly building something testable, tests early and refines the design as guided by the results. When the intervention has been improved and sharpened across multiple iterations it can then be filled out, scaled up and prepared for implementation. Agile rituals and cadence provide an ideal partner for each of these stages and don't restrict adjustments as unknown unknowns become apparent through the design process.
How co-design can become a central part of the agile process: A critical part of Agile Business Transformation is a foundational commitment to designing change alongside all of the voices needed for success. This begins with what we call ‘convening power’, helping you identify and then assemble the voices needed to create a guiding coalition to implement and establish a successful transformation. A combination of deep experience, bespoke tools and specific mindsets allows us to balance and broker these voices, creating a space in which they can design change together. The small, responsive and close-to-the-problem teams that typify Agile project work are ideal for fostering focused and inclusive co-design.
So which voices matter?
The way we carry out agile transformation relies on a collaborative approach that begins with assembling all of the voices required to authorise and author a transformation that will work.
At ThinkPlace, we call this our “four voices” model. Each project begins with an authorising voice: the voice of intent. This person -- it’s probably you -- is the sponsor of the planned change and often the funder. They are also likely the instigator of our process.
Next we have the voice of expertise. These people have the technical knowledge and capability to inform our transformation. They understand the technical limits of what might be possible. Whether it’s a new program that will operate within a hospital network or a renewable energy project that must integrate with the national energy grid these voices are essential for adding technical rigour and keeping the team firmly grounded in what’s possible.
The third voice may be the most important. It is the voice of experience. These are the people who will experience the change. The users of the system it will sit within. Without their active participation in the process no transformation can truly be successful.
And the fourth voice is the voice of design. This voice brokers the others and facilitates their conversation. Like the conductor of an orchestra it uses tools and deep experience to make sure none of the other voices dominate or subordinate. It looks for and enables productive synthesis that drives the creation of breakthrough ideas that are relevant and pragmatic.
Want to know more about Agile Business Transformation and how it can respond to your challenges? Click here to arrange a free consultation.