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A dummy's guide to agile working

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22nd Jul 2015
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You may have heard the word bandied about, but in simple terms what does it mean and how is it effective? Belinda Waldock tells us how to get agile.

Agile is a methodology and mindset that has evolved from the tech sector to deliver quality products that deliver value in markets and environments that are subject to rapid and extreme change. Agile is at its core a method for working in and managing extreme change and uncertainty.  

Agile provides a problem-solving toolkit, and a practical method that gives visibility and creates metrics to improve and gain perspective. As a tool it works to manage and improve all aspects of the business including work in progress, systems, processes, people, projects, products and value delivered.  

Agile is an umbrella term for a variety of methods and tools that work collectively across the business creating channels for communication and breaking down barriers caused by hierarchy.

While agile working provides a valuable tool set for managing and improving performance, agility requires the adoption of an agile mindset to help establish an agile culture as well as an agile way of working. This requires the adoption of a way of thinking as well as working that helps us to accept and embrace change as part of the process, and to adopt an approach of continuous learning, growth and improvement.

Change management 

Agile builds in change, it accepts changes will happen. Plans are implemented flexibly to respond to change and allow for continuous improvement. An agile mindset embraces change as opportunity and potential for learning and growth. 

"There is chaos under the heavens and the situation is excellent" – Chinese proverb

Test-driven development   

Agile works to validate and test solutions early, to measure impact and value as the solution is delivered. Releasing early solutions for feedback provides vital information to help evolve and develop the idea into a solution that is fit for purpose. Agile works to ensure the right thing is built, and the thing is built right.  

Gain clarity and visibility   

Agile tools help to visualise, clarify and share information. Agile literally puts the writing on the wall providing a real-time snapshot and practical communication channel for the business.  

Agile information dashboards provide real-time, tactile communication channels for collaborating and maintaining a shared understanding throughout the business. Agile breaks down silos and encourages cross-team working.  

Empower teams 

Use agile to foster a healthy and positive working environment that supports and empower teams. 

Agile works to empower individuals and teams, providing a structure and tool set for self-organisation and management. The method encourages teams to work collaboratively and improve their performance collectively through metrics and a culture of continuous improvement. Agile leaders are empowered to provide their teams with the environment, tools and skills to deliver value and achieve optimum performance levels.

Identify blocks and limitations 

Agile is a method to support, analyse, manage and improve existing practices within the business. Agile helps to review current approaches and identify the blocks, bottlenecks and issues that limit the business. Agile helps teams to optimise and improve their working practices through learning and reflection. 

Harness talent and potential 

Use agile as a tool to improve team performance and individual job satisfaction. Agile allows teams to play to their strengths and identify opportunities for development and improvement. Agile businesses leverage their talent and create teams that perform at their best enabling their businesses to thrive.  

Maintain balance

It is vital to balance both running the business and changing the business in order for it to be able to continue to sustain growth and deliver value. As a business grows and develops it can struggle with capacity, less time is available for innovation and improvement. Agile ensures that a balance is maintained between running the day to day activities of the business and making time for continuous improvement and development throughout the business, consistently improving its products, people, systems and processes.  

Agile values people, collaboration, working solutions and change. An agile team values being agile over being perfect, they look to release their work early and gain feedback to enable them to continuously improve and refine the value they deliver and be responsive as markets and customers change and evolve.  

Belinda Waldock is a leading business coach who has worked to help hundreds of small to medium sized businesses to overcome the challenges of fast growth by adopting agile practices to create a culture of agility. Being Agile in Business provides simple, jargon-free advice that is designed to be read in an agile way – in short bursts that can then be put into action in the real world. Being Agile in Business by Belinda Waldock, is available as a paperback or ebook, published by Pearson, the world’s leading education publisher.

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