People are at the core of agile
In this new deep dive into agile, I thought I would concentrate on various stakeholders that are affected by agile ways of working. All of these groups need to be considered if agile is to be really successful. This means understanding how agile affects them and what is expected of them.
Arguably the most important group is those who will benefit from the products and services being created. This group is often called “the customer”. However, it equally applies to any beneficiary of products or services – for instance patients in hospitals, children in schools etc. They can be either internal or external to an organisation. For convenience, I will still call them “the customer”.
When adopting an agile approach, we would expect customers to be at the centre, actively involved and consulted throughout, often providing resources that can be available daily and making business-related decisions. This level of involvement needs to be clear otherwise they may not be available as expected. It is also important that customers are adequately trained, so that they can understand the agile approach and their role within it. More and more often now, it is not possible to involve the final customers fully as they could be any member of the general public. In this case, it is very important to understand their needs and opinions. For this reason, techniques such as user research, is becoming more and more popular.
Most agile approaches prioritise based on the principle that not all requirements need to be fulfilled for an initiative to succeed. There is a subset, often called the ‘minimum usable subset’ (MUST) or the ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) that will suffice. Other requirements may or may not be delivered, depending on the time available. This requires flexibility from all sides, but particularly from the customer as they often place everything is a ‘must’. Once the products and / or services are delivered, they can see that the prioritisation was correct, but initially it is often hard to convince them. There are some effective techniques to facilitate this process, such as the MoSCoW prioritisation technique.
In order to gain optimum value, it is necessary to introduce new or changed products and services early and often. Any change management experts reading this will remind us that any change causes disruption and must be managed correctly. Too much constant change may have a negative impact; too little and potential opportunities and benefits may be lost.
Depending on the size and impact of changes, we always need to consider the effect on processes and procedures, and the impact on stakeholders and workload. As much as possible, the customer should be in control of this and not have things “thrust upon them”.
The next group to consider is those providing us with products and services – normally called suppliers. Suppliers can be external third parties or internal to the organisation. Whichever, they have to understand agile and the tools and techniques being used. I have seen initiatives fail when the supplier works in more traditional ways but the customer expects and uses an agile approach. Suppliers new to agile will need training and mentoring during at first.
If the supplier is external, contracts between the suppliers and the customer enter may need amendment. The Agile Business Consortium offers a sample agile contract.
Operational and support staff
Another important group are those who will have to manage and support the products and services day to day, often called operational staff. To guarantee success, representatives from these operational teams are key stakeholders when introducing agile into an organisation. Products and services will be introduced and changed incrementally and these teams can provide guidance on what is operationally feasible and the constraints and barriers that may apply.
Operational teams should also participate in the planning, creation, and implementation of any agile projects or programmes themselves. Involvement throughout will help to ensure a smooth transition into the live organisation, facilitating frequent releases and minimising negative impacts on the customer.
Quality and audit functions
Quality and audit functions also need to understand the impact of agile in the organisation and on its standard operating procedures. As agile is introduced, they can advise on regulatory requirements and potential changes to procedures. Early involvement will help to show that agile is a quality-based, repeatable approach.
Quality representatives are also often core team members in agile teams, especially where quality or regulatory constraints form a major part of the project. Early involvement can avoid potential issues later.
Senior leaders and finance
The success of agile in organisations will depend on the approach and attitude to agile by senior leaders. In my last blog, I examined leadership behaviours and values that lead to an agile culture. Senior leaders should actively demonstrate these. This includes actively promoting and backing the agile initiative.
For agile to work well in organisations, it is necessary to examine funding and budgeting models. Different styles of contracts and procurement may also be necessary.
Project and programme managers
So I have left the bulk of the readership to last!
Coordination and facilitation of projects and programmes to ensure they will met their goals is as important in agile as it has been in more traditional approaches. The risks and issues are still there and need to be managed. The whole thing still needs coordinating. Effective stakeholder engagement and communication is more important than ever. The skill is to empower the teams to get on with it with minimal interference whilst ensuring the project or programme remains aligns to its goals and will deliver as expected. The Agile Project Management guidance from the Agile Business Consortium explains it far better than I ever could!
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Agile refuses to analyse requirements beforehand – and thus declines to provide an initial certainty. This will probably always scare any stakeholder trying to understand whether or not they can show results to the board with the budget that they are granted.
You have a choice. You can either muddle on, stand firm and fix it – or look elsewhere.