Agile ways of working are becoming increasingly popular as organisations seek to reduce costs and respond rapidly to a fast-changing competitive marketplace. Being an Agile organisation means adopting a mindset of continuous improvement, allowing the organisation to deliver value fast and often. Large organisations can struggle transitioning to Agile ways of working due to their size and their traditional operating models. These organisations tend to prioritise cost-cutting and stability above agility and innovation. Whilst internal bureaucracy and cultural barriers can make a transformation to Agile difficult to achieve, the many benefits are worth the investment.
Agile working can lead to a 20% reduction in a company’s workforce costs but it does require a particular, thoughtful approach. Large organisations cannot instantly adopt a companywide transition to Agile. Instead, they should plan carefully for a successful transformation by prioritising four key principles: start with pilots, creating cross-functional teams, agreeing measurable outcomes and embracing a cultural shift from the top down.
In this article, Paul O’Shea, CEO of Kumoco, the management consultancy that specialises in Agile working and cloud consulting, reviews these steps and assesses how to implement them.
Create a vision and ease into an Agile working style
Achieving a successful and scaled Agile transformation requires a clear vision and embracing a new way of operating. On an organisational level this can be difficult to achieve. Larger organisations are often faced with siloed teams, rigid working cultures and inflexible core processes. These can initially seem resistant to an Agile transformation.
Bigger organisations should ease into an Agile working style by focusing first on the areas where Agile will make the greatest difference. Starting small with a product, project or unit will help to build confidence and know-how across the organisation. It will also demonstrate the value that can be derived from Agile methods. This allows teams to build confidence and identify any issues before transforming the wider organisation.
IT teams and departments are often the first to implement Agile ways of working. Once this has been successfully achieved, it is important that the transformation does not stop there. For Agile to work most effectively the whole organisation needs to transform.
Create cross-functional teams
In larger organisations, the biggest resistance to scaling Agile is often not horizontal but vertical with business silos inhibiting the progression of Agile throughout the organisation. Cross-functional teams are crucial to tackling silos and making Agile a success. To create these teams organisations should carefully select a range of employees from different areas of the business. These employees should hold a range of skills and expertise to allow the team to be autonomous, dynamic and to function effectively. To ensure success you should plan to invest in both training and mentoring for your teams but it is important that the key Agile roles of Product Owner, Scrum Master and/or Kanban Lead are filled with experienced hires. This enables the transformation to be accelerated.
Agree measurable outcomes
At Kumoco, we use the term Measurable Outcomes to describe business value that can be determined. Measurable outcomes ensure that every individual on a project (from customer to operations) is working towards a common set of goals with clarity on the value they bring to the business and customer. Each part of the business should define their own Measurable Outcomes with these cascading throughout the organisation and allowing each team to show the value they are creating as contributing to the wider company vision.
Encourage a cultural shift – from the top down
Culture needs to be at the heart of every Agile transformation. Embracing the required change should be a gradual process. This is particularly the case with large-scale transformations where it takes time to shift from rigid operational processes to an Agile system of short cycles and flexibility.
The first step large organisations should take is evaluating their working culture. This can help businesses see where improvements can be made and helps inform the changes they need to make in order to become Agile. Creating a culture that embraces continuous improvement, transparency, innovation and empowerment should be encouraged across the organisation. Senior management should lead by example to create this shift in culture.
It is crucial that a company’s leadership team embraces Agile and eases into any required changes for a transformation to have a real impact on the organisation. At Kumoco, we believe that ‘Agility moves at the speed of management’ because the executive team is critical to its success.
In summary, to successfully achieve an Agile transformation, it is a journey that your whole organisation needs to be part of. There must be be a clear vision and measurable outcomes to prove the transformation is working. A mindset of continuous improvement will allow you to quickly adapt as market conditions change.