As a sector, IT was late to the party when it came to adopting the Lean principles that came out of heavy industry in the 1950s. To make up for it, though, the technology teams that have picked-up those principles and applied them as agile have done a good job of popularising them. It seems that most people in the sector now have awareness of them as well as an opinion of them. Even better, it now appears that the way Lean and agile techniques are practised and tools are implemented has reached a level of maturity where we can all learn things from those pioneers who chose to do things differently.
So what is it that business leaders and senior staff could learn from their teams? For me, it seems like it is the basics that are often over-looked. Here are five examples:
1) The five Scrum values of focus, courage, openness, commitment & respect could go a long way at business level.
a. Focus on fewer objectives at any given time. I see too many senior teams try to do too much and they water down their quality, service or ability to deliver as a result, stretching themselves too far.
b. The courage to make decisions – not least the decision to focus on fewer overall objectives. Also the courage to trust in your teams of domain specialists.
c. Openness is about being transparent, and transparency builds trust. If you want your staff to trust you and believe in your leadership, then openness is a good place to start.
d. Commitment to your objectives, teams, staff and yourself is essential. No-one wants to work hard for a spineless fake.
e. Learning to respect those around you for what they are good at and celebrating them for their quirks and uniqueness is essential. If you don’t respect them, they wont respect you.
2) Great teams will never believe they are perfect – and really that’s a good thing because once we think we have reached perfection we stop trying to improve. In the same way all businesses need to strive to continually improve. This means being able to look at themselves with honesty and integrity, seek out the bad and replace it with good. Agile tools like retrospectives and incremental goal-based changes can help with this.
3) Truly empowered teams are the cornerstone of agile effectiveness, but for them to work, all members need to understand their roles, the boundaries, scope, scale and vision of what they are there to do and, crucially, have the willingness to support each other. Too many senior staff focus their energies on creating fiefdoms, concentrating on consolidating their power whilst letting their departments rot from within. Are you courageous enough to be the first amongst your peers to start changing the way you work?
4) Making deliberate informed decisions based on fast feedback from customers is something that effective agile teams thrive on. Whilst it’s true that their success is dependent on the maturity of their teams there can be quite a variation in success, but nevertheless it’s central to how they work. Agile teams have a dedicated role – the product owner, which was specifically developed to make decisions so that progress can be made. Too many times senior teams lose sight of their vision, goals and objectives then get stuck in the quagmire of committee decision-making whilst their competitors run rings around them.
5) Responding to change instead of sticking to a plan, is what agility is all about. Technology teams know that in the turbulent world of software development change happens quickly and they need to be able to respond to change fast to keep their product relevant to users. Well, that’s true of businesses too. There are lots of examples of businesses that didn’t keep up with the changing market place and lost out. Blockbuster, Woolworths, Blackberry anyone? How about MySpace? Anyone old enough to remember Friends Reunited? The examples are numerous. Responding to change instead of sticking to a plan, is what agility is all about.
Agility, the ability to be flexible and respond to change is central to businesses of all types and not just in the IT sector. We work with charities, hedgefund managers, financial institutions, broadcasters, travel agencies, dotcoms, retail, engineering companies, consultancies – you name it – to help them improve the way they run their businesses. A great place to start is our Business Agility workshop, designed to help senior teams embrace the effective, results-focussed approaches that the best software development teams use to deliver great products their users love.