Agile & Digital

Implementing Agile in a virtual and matrixed reality

Traditional Agile methodologies recommend dedicated teams in a face-to-face, colocated setting, with a strict focus on short to medium term deliverables. Many of our clients operate in multiple teams in multiple locations and need to operate ongoing business processes that can’t be easily divided into a series of two-week sprints. How can we get the benefits of Agile when our reality is very different from the software development world where the Agile approach was developed?

It’s important to define in advance what agility means to you. It’s a mistake to slavishly adopt any technique developed in another world into your own corporate culture and reality. Do you need a strict implementation of Agile methodology to engineering projects, or are you looking for improved organizational agility which makes you more responsive and faster in adapting to changes in your market?

We have clients who are defining agility as everything from working part of the week at home for the first time, through to improving the effectiveness of their matrix, through to large-scale organizational change with autonomous teams and new ways of working. Are you clear about your objectives?

If your reality is that people work in different locations, maybe on multiple teams and work on ongoing business processes then you will need to adapt Agile to the reality of your environment. Here are some examples:

  • It is, of course, possible to run your regular Scrum meetings, retrospectives and other approaches virtually – but it does require different skills. if your teams are not co-located then you need to engineer your collaboration to ensure effective coordination when you are working apart as individuals and effective collaboration when you need to come together and work collaboratively on participative conference calls and virtual meetings
  • Depending on the nature of the task and the interdependence of the team it may or may not be necessary to have a daily meeting, if you are looking at Scrum. We have encountered organizations which think meeting every day is the essence of Agile, in fact it can often be a complete waste of time. Particularly in virtual teams we need to design a communication heartbeat that meets the need of the task and the needs for individuals to build relationships and maintain trust
  • If we are working on multiple teams then we do incur switching costs when we move from one team to another. People need to develop the skills to minimise these costs and find the right balance between positive learning and information overload – for example, organizations with a strong corporate culture will find this process easier, as there will be an expected way of working that is consistent across teams.
  • If you are operating an ongoing business process you may have some elements of your work, particularly improvement activities, that respond well to a structured Agile methodology type approach with regular sprints to deliver defined outcomes. Other activities will probably not respond well to this approach and the structure may just add delay and unnecessary collaboration
  • For some organizations, agility is more about cutting out unnecessary delays often caused by factors such as too many meetings, slow decision-making and unnecessary work. The standard Agile methodology may not help with this but principles from the lean movement around reducing waste or the “Lean Start-Up” approach to rapid, iterative experimentation may be more useful
  • Don’t forget that even the most advanced “new ways of working” experiments such as those conducted at Spotify with tribes, guilds, chapters and squads require people to collaborate in a dynamic matrix environment with multiple stakeholders. These skills haven’t gone away and need to be updated for a much more fast-moving and flexible organization.

Whatever your focus, you can indeed learn from other organizations. However, you do need to adapt this to your own reality and business context.

Start by being clear about your goals and what agility means to you, then choose which techniques will best meet their goal and adapt them to your corporate culture.

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