The recent IDC InfoBrief [New Zealand's State of Agility 2021] asked respondents to think about the way their organisation actually works, and what is their favoured delivery approach.

Do they use a 'waterfall' methodology — linear, fixing time, cost, and scope? Or are they embracing more modern delivery frameworks, and moving towards rapid product-centric methodologies?

It’s encouraging to see that 79 per cent believe their organisation’s agility has improved in the last 12 months, and it’s clear that organisations know they need to deliver faster and more in tune with customers needs. In the IDC InfoBrief, close to two-thirds of respondents said agility is very important to future success while 77 per cent of New Zealand organisations surveyed agreed that improving agility is their top priority.

It’s exciting to see not only widespread interest in agile ways of working but a huge desire to continue to improve. This is a great example of an agile mindset in action — a hunger to get better is in itself a step towards transforming an organisation towards a more agile delivery approach.

The context

Agile ways of working have emerged over the last 30 years, and, while initially they were focused on coalface delivery, have now spread into the upper echelons of corporate organisation. In essence, these ways of working are about being able to adapt to change quickly —and certainly if there’s ever been a driver for changing fast, then the last 18 months or so have delivered it. New Zealand businesses have had to change the way they work in response to COVID-19 and its ongoing global impact.

For example, one of the core principles in the agile manifesto calls out face-to-face communication as the most effective way to convey information, and most agile professionals have encouraged teams to work in this way. Clearly, this is no longer as easy as it once was — however, it’s the spirit of the principle that’s the most important thing. How can we get the outcomes we desire in the next best way? Having social contracts where we agree to turn cameras on during conference calls and providing access and training on collaboration tools (e.g. Miro) will help teams claw back some of what has been lost. It’s about being prepared to work differently, keeping a close eye on what we’re trying to achieve, and adapting how we’re doing it to find out what’s going to work best.

Agile: defined

An agile way of working isn’t a goal in its own right. It’s merely a set of beliefs and practices to help an organisation achieve its strategic objectives — these are the real goals and require continual focus. While agile ways of working happen to be pretty awesome once you’re in the swing of it, this is not the reason why it’s become so popular. It’s popular because — once done well — it just works. A focus on delivering the highest value items as quickly as possible, and being able to identify and respond to customers' changing needs quickly, clearly brings a competitive advantage.

An agile way of working is a journey rather than a destination. And as with any journey, it starts with the first step. An organisation's first foray with agility often includes day-to-day practices. While there is value in these, the real value comes with embracing the wider agile mindset. Moving from 'doing agile' to 'being agile' brings understanding around the intent behind the practices. It also allows organisations to determine what tweaks to the processes and tools will help move them closer to understanding and responding to their customers faster, and ultimately deliver more value.

Organisation-wide agility is awesome, not only from a productivity perspective but from an individual perspective as well. Productive organisations normally respect, value, and invest in the contribution of their people. Individuals and teams are empowered to make decisions — within guardrails — and experiment with how they might best deliver products and services that customers love. Delivering higher quality, faster, with less effort, and more in line with what customers want is what makes teams feel great. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are integral parts of great agile teams — not only on the shop floor but throughout the organisation.

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