This is the first in our series of blogs taken from our new session Adapting Agile. This session is part of Emergn’s VFQ & Agile Learning Pathway. You can order the session booklet if you want a physical copy of the book, complete with activities, case studies and full research notes.

Following many years of practical experience, we have identified similar patterns in organisations successfully using Agile principles and practices. Here, we examine the first –
a commitment to improve the outcomes.

A commitment to improve the outcomes

Well, of course we do that! Tick. Next.

Every company we have ever met sincerely believes that they are committed to improving their outcomes. And yet, their behaviour does not always reflect that. Improvement tends to mean change, and change often means doing rather uncomfortable things.

To begin with we need to ask ourselves questions and take action depending on the answers. We need to keep doing this, over and over again. In Agile it’s known as ‘continuous improvement’.

  • Can we identify what we want to improve?
  • Can we make changes, measure the results and then adjust our plan again?

Risks of ignoring the pattern

A commitment to change and improvement has a further, difficult corollary. It goes hand in hand with a willingness to give up certainty. Not knowing what’s going to happen is implicit in the concept of ’change’. Numerous organisations claim to want to be Agile, but they also want to know exactly what will happen. You will have to break the news to them that crystal balls don’t work.

When companies demand, ‘all 300 features for £1 million in six months time’, they are dooming themselves to disappointment. Such certainty requires a great deal of waste (in built-in contingency) and it rejects change. An Agile team would say, ‘we think we can deliver these 3 things next month’. At that point, you should be in a better position to know whether the project is delivering what you hoped it would. This offers predictability and forecasting, but it is not certainty.

Sometimes companies are so entrenched in a system that demands certainty that they find it astonishingly painful to give up. We appreciate why that’s so, but without embracing this commitment to improvement and all that it implies, you cannot develop software in an Agile manner.

Signs to watch out for

Are you dominated by ‘best practice’?

Agile practitioners ought to be very wary of the term ‘best practice’. It is at odds with a continual striving for improvement or with flexibility in the face of change. Ask anyone who claims to be offering ’best practice’ when the process was last updated, changed or adapted.

How often do you change or update your desired outcomes?

Organisations need to update their own policies and routines regularly. Do you know what outcomes you are trying to improve? Can you see how the work you do contributes towards this? If something gets in the way of the goal, would you be able to remove the conflict or block? For example, if the company is trying to improve speed of delivery, but the approvals process is holding up decisions, can the approvals process be changed? If not, then we suggest the commitment is not held very deeply.

Is the commitment demonstrated in practices?

A key practice intended to demonstrate a commitment to improvement is the retrospective. Be warned though, it is very easy simply to hold meetings once a month at which everyone lets off steam and eats chocolate cake and then goes back to work. Holding the meeting is not a sign of a commitment to improvement; analysing the team’s performance, coming up with actions, carrying them out and observing the results, is.

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