10 top tips for introducing Agile Working projects successfully

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  8 Jul 2014   JohnEary

Flexible Working has been with us since the beginning of the Millennium and there are plenty of qualified Project Managers around, over one million people have taken the PRINCE2 certification since it was established in 1996. So introducing an Agile Working project should be easy right? Wrong.

Agile Working is more challenging than Flexible Working, and most Business Transformation, projects in that it seeks behaviour change of staff beyond their (increasingly notional) 9-5 working hours and impacts, some would say threatens, the life component of their work-life balance.

It takes a particular sort of Project Manager who is happy to deal with the fuzzy outcomes of behaviour change. Project Managers who are most comfortable with the mechanics of detailed project plans and product breakdown structures may find the subtleties of an Agile Woking project unsettling.

The ten top tips for introducing Agile Working projects identify the factors that contribute most to the successful launch of an Agile Working projects.

1. Construct a robust Business Case – In reality many projects are kicked off without a business case but I would argue that a Business Case, at an appropriate level of detail, will provide an essential reference point to remind everyone of the objectives and the benefits of the project when the going gets tough. In constructing the business case it is best to take an organisation-wide view to identify areas where Agile Working could best increase effectiveness and meet the strategic aims of the organisation. This should be tempered with a realistic assessment of business readiness for new ways of working.

2. Find a champion in the business – Agile Working will impact many activities of an organisation and may well cut across other initiatives. A board-level Project Champion can ensure that sufficient resources are made available to the project and ensure that senior managers understand the benefits. Further impetus can be gained by setting up a network of empowered change champions across different functions of the organisation.

3. Engage stakeholders early and often – Quantitative data may make an overwhelming business case but anecdotal evidence may be needed to sway hearts and minds. Providing a narrative supported by real life experiences will help sell the concepts and principles of new ways of working. Before and after stories can be very persuasive.

4. Address culture change issues – Encourage senior leaders be the first to make the step across to the new working environment, leading by example. Involve your audience – those happy with the change and those who are not. A vision achieved in collaboration with all parties will help provide the change program’s identity. This may take time to formulate and agree but an identity will personalise and project the vision in a more engaging way. Make it a team effort as well.

5. Provide direction but don’t be directive – People at every level of the organisation should be given an opportunity to share insights before, during and after implementation. Success, and how it will be measured will need to be defined and how employees will be evaluated and rewarded. ‚Ä®Agile Working requires individual initiative but within a team working approach. There need to be clear objectives but minimal micro management. It is a safe assumption that one size won’t fit all, so a heterogeneous approach is needed.

6. Anticipate security issues – Working in multiple locations clearly adds to the risks of losing gadgets like phones or laptops but the more serious risks relate to loss of data and privacy issues. Fortunately good security practices for ‘on-the-go working’ are now well developed. However a serious security breach will set back the cause of Agile Working. A thorough risk assessment with effective mitigation is an essential component of the project initiation process.

7. Treat technology as an enabler not the driver of the project – The rise of tablets, smart phones and paper-thin laptops has paved the way for Agile Working, But Agile Working must be regarded as a business project not a technology project. The selection of technology should be made on the basis of the main activities Agile Workers will need to undertake. The provision of communications and access to data and systems is less glamorous but crucial element of Agile Working. Making systems perform effectively in remote environments is often challenging but a necessary component of successfully Agile Working.

8. Seek agreement on communication methods – Effective communication is important to the success of any change program. There is now a wide range of communication styles including the use of blogs, videos, and various tools for online communities. Ensure everyone involved in the project is able and wiling to use the communications technologies proposed.

9. Prepare management and staff – Directive training is the antithesis of what Agile Working is about. There may be the need to provide training in the use of new technologies and the HR and legal parameter. However the main requirement is for managers and staff to understand the concepts of Agile Working and develop ways how they can be applied in practical way that everyone can sign up to.

10. Start with a pilot – A ‘big bang’ approach heightens the risks of an already challenging project. Better to test the approach by running a small-scale pilot scheme for a set period of time. A pilot provides an opportunity to gather detailed feedback, evaluate and make changes as required. Lessons learned may need to be incorporated into a revised business case.

With these ten top tips for introducing Agile Working projects you should have more than a fighting chance of impelling a successful project.

john-eary-100x100-01.jpgWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

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