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Four rules for crafting digital solutions

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Agile is the big thing in change these days. It helps our sluggish organisations respond faster to disruption and uncertainty. The reason is simple. As the world gets more complex and changes faster, there are fewer challenges where objectives and outcomes are completely clear upfront, and where the best route to success is predefined.

Author of The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains how, in a chaotic world, we must seek solutions that become more robust as complexity increases and that can also ‘heal’ themselves. He calls these “anti-fragile”.

Some of us have read The Agile Manifesto, know how to persuade colleagues to change their behaviour towards an agile approach, and know that, for agile to work, environment matters – use one centralised room. Some of us understand when to use agile and when not to, and know that agile means seeing your colleagues daily, and talking as a substitute for documentation.

Most of us think that this is enough. And if your business is small, your project team is co-located and you have few external dependencies, then it is. But what if team members have to commute for an hour to come to the office for a stand-up meeting? What if you are a global business? What if you have team members in other organisations who are widely dispersed?

If you recognise these challenges, then you know that ‘what some of us know’ is not enough to succeed. None of us has an obvious solution to scale, speed, dispersed teams and complex interdependencies. Instead, you may find that, as the project grinds on, you are forced to change from weekly sprints to monthly global sprints in which you fly people around the world.

When cost is prohibitive, many are left out. Stand-ups are replaced by conference calls. The product owner becomes remote. Key event deadlines creep closer, finally getting too close for comfort. Teams are rushed to get together into one physical place for a couple of weeks to get the job done. Your agile approach has become fragile.

If your first instinct is to reach into the digital ‘lucky-dip’ box for a solution, beware. There are four rules you must follow to make your fragile agile more robust. 

  1. Interact as people directly

If you’ve used social media, you’ll be aware of the level of miscommunication that happens. That’s because you only ever get to read and respond to other people’s posts. You never encounter the person themselves. Many digital solutions are designed so that you only ever interact with data, never with people. For agile, this runs counter to the manifesto. 

  1. To deal with complex interdependencies, make sure interactions are not one-way

Remember when you were frustrated on that webinar because it was all download? Just a stream of stuff dumped on you? You wanted to feed back, but more importantly, you wanted sidebar conversations with your colleagues to deal with your specific issue. 

  1. Make sure knowledge outlasts the event

This allows people from different time zones to participate and also gives you a single version of the truth. Have you forgotten the frustration felt after that fantastic conversation where you were unable to take notes because you were on the train and once you hung up and everyone dispersed, all the logic and discovery were lost? 

  1. The solution must allow the project’s emotional energy to be shared

You know how, when you really want to get something done and you are getting on well with colleagues and know they won’t let you down or waste your effort, it doesn’t really feel like work? 

Now you can scale, speed up, work with multiple complex interdependencies and emotionally engage people to proactively seek and destroy issues. In short, now you’ll find your agile has become anti-fragile. 

This article originally appeared in Project journal, which is free for all APM members.

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Image: anttoniart/


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