An agile organisation needs a nimble mind

Here’s the scenario: You work as a consultant for a very large company. Your client has just blown their project budget. After spending two years and $74 million, the project team have delivered nothing, and they need another $74 million and another two years to try again! What would you recommend?

Erika Barden studied the situation carefully and knew that the client had to change the way they managed their projects. Unable to watch them waste another pile of cash she recommended that the management team implements an Agile approach. Although the concept of Agile project management is not new, some people are hesitant to implement it. Many believe that Agile involves throwing out the rule book, plunging into projects without a plan, avoiding commitment, dodging accountability and buying many pretty Post-it® notes!

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more Erika learnt about Agile, the more she understood that it was not about avoiding accountability but exactly the opposite. Agile does not avoid processes and tools; it merely places them in the right priority with individuals and interactions. Instead of piles of project documentation, the customer gets working software, and they have been involved in every step of the development process. The customer feels as if they are part of the production process, not merely a passive observer. Instead of rigidly following a plan that daily becomes less relevant as circumstances change, Agile allows people to adapt quickly to change and mitigate big risks along the way. They do go through a fair amount of Post-its®, though.

There are plenty of controls, lots of lean governance and a very clear line of accountability, but the pace is different, and it requires not just a change in process but also a change in the way people think. Erika learnt that the success of an Agile project depends on top executives adopting an Agile mind-set and then transmitting this to everyone in the organisation. A rigid organisation that tries to operate just one aspect of the operation in an Agile way is bound to experience disappointment. Spark made headlines when it adopted an Agile approach not just for its development projects but as a way of doing business.

Erika was in the first cohort of Massey’s Master of Advance Leadership Practice, and her A+ dissertation looked at the way leaders need to change (by adopting an Agile mind-set) in order to ensure that the process is a success across their organisations. She has been an energetic advocate for Agile Leadership and is working on a range of projects with companies in the private and public sector throughout New Zealand.

Listen to Erika explain what Agile really means, how to use it as a business-as-usual process and what you need to do to ensure the successful transformation of your business.

Erika Barden is Head of Agile for Frank Innovation & Transformation, a company committed to delivering value-enhancing change. She is also a graduate of the Master of Advanced Leadership Practice (MALP).

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