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The Age of Agile Everything - what does this all mean

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On 10th March more than 250 people attended another webinar from ProgM. This time in a double-bill starring John Eary and Steve Messenger delegates enjoyed a set of crafted poll questions from John causing them to reflect on their experience and perceptions of agile working. Meanwhile Steve offered two prizes of the ‘hot off the press Agile Programme Management Handbook for the best questions received.

In the event when combined with the clever ‘interest rating’ applied by the GoToWebinar there were in fact 3 winners. Congratulations. They have now received their handbooks and their projects are no doubt already the better for it. A full list of questions and answers has been prepared for the two speakers and uploaded on Slideshare.

John Eary – Agile Working
Steve Messenger – Agile Programme Management

Agile Working – what is it and why it matters [John Eary]

So what do we mean by Agile?

John offered some definitions of agility including the ability to move nimbly with speed and ease and for organisations – the ability to change routines without resistance.

John provided a useful progression model which illustrates the transition, or journey, from the traditional office through flexitime in the 1970s, home working, smart working – sloganized as ‘working smarter not harder’ right through to agile working.

John examined work through the three dimensions of; time, location and autonomy. Autonomy relates to ‘how’ you actually work. It is this that marks out agile from flexible working. 

In a poll respondents were asked ‘What is your main way of working - traditional, home, mobile, smart working or agile?’ Traditional workers were in the majority at 42% with agile workers down at just 7% of the 250 or so attendee / respondents on the webinar.

John felt the result was surprising – a little lower than he might have expected for an audience made up primarily of project managers. By way of comparison in a recent Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion ENEI survey around 20% of respondents described themselves as agile workers.

So how is Agile Working different from flexible working?

Flexible working is typically driven by bottom-line benefits e.g. the reduction of office space, which can be sold or leased to release a benefit. Agile is typically more transformational than smart working that is more about process improvement.

Flexible has a focus on when the work is carried out, the culture is based on procedures. It is generally regarded as an employee-centric benefit and the term work-life balance was coined as a description of it.

Agile working is seen as a value-creating activity and employees are rewarded for quality and the level of output. It is seen as an employer-centred benefit. Work-life integration is more apt as a description as the boundaries between work and home-life are far more porous. For example we don’t wait until the end of the day before we do social stuff at work or vice-versa.

The corporate benefits of Agile Working.

John outlined a number of benefits from a corporate perspective including; enhanced customer service, improved productivity, CSR and environmental impact and improved business continuity in the event of a catastrophic event.

The world of work in 2025

John’s perspective of the world to come based on his consideration of a number of research papers. Less need for offices, less travel, better video conferencing including virtual hand-shakes. John offered his own view that the business case for high speed trains was now looking quite shaky! The need for keyboards will decrease as speech recognition improves and we are able to control devices through gestures. Fewer middle managers will be required … and technology will become even more important in enabling work - for example through the use of robots.

Initiating and sustaining Agile Working

John used alliteration to describe four 4 key considerations for agile working, namely; Technology, threat, trust and training. John recommends the use of facilitated workshops so that employees can discuss how they wish to work.

He introduced McGregor’s Theory of Management. The X manager who’s view of employees are that they fundamentally dislike work and need to be coerced and controlled. In contrast the Y manager believes that people view work as being as natural as play and rest and need to be encouraged and supported to do a good job.

In the next poll the audience was asked which type of manager is your boss? The Results showed and 80:20 split between Theory X [coercive] - 22% and Theory Y [supportive] - 78%. John commiserated with the former!

The employee response to Agile working can be characterised in a number of ways. Isolationist - works alone – for example by hiding themselves away to write a report. This is often seen as a selfish behaviour as they are unavailable to the team for advice. The Time shifter - may wish to work at different times in order to accommodate work-life integration. The Reluctant Absentee - would prefer to be in an office - for example to ask across the desk rather than emailing. Finally, if you really crack Agile working it doesn’t matter where you work – you have arrived as the archetypal “Remote Manager”

In the third poll question on what is your main workstyle when you are away from the office? The following responses were received.

The results seemed to indicate a ‘healthy spread’ of workstyles as follows: Isolationist 14%, the time shift 16%, the reluctant absentee – 25%, the remote manager – 46%

John concluded with the a summary slide of four success factors for successful projects - focus on performance, encourage innovation including different ways of doing things, people need to be valued and it is vital that trust is built in the organisation.

The full presentation can be seen below or on Slideshare.

Agile Programme Management and Transformational Change [Steve Messenger]

Steve started his presentation by describing the DSDM Consortium which is now 21 years old. He was lead author of Agile Programme Management guidance.

Business change is about moving current to a new state. Can bring with it disruption and problems. Main reason for problem is people … see quote from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point … “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a rare set of social gifts.

 Steve described some of the barriers to change – for example when attempting to change the culture of an organisation which often includes the power structure - managers feeling threatened by the process of change.

What can be done? A clear vision is needed - that can be communicated will help people to understand. If you do things in small steps you are more likely to succeed – for example by giving people time to recover.

Why talk about change when we are talking about programme management?

ProgM is really a structured process to help deliver change. So what changes when you are seeking to put an agile approach into a programme? For a start it is about delivering early, allowing people to get on with their projects and taking an iterative feedback approach.

There are five principles that will significantly increase your chance of a running a successful programme. See below:

The Agile Lifecycle model

Steve presented the agile life-cycle model which was capable of being used on its own or is consistent enough to be incorporated into another methodology such as MSP for example.

Pre-programme and programme feasibility is all about understanding whether it is worth doing the programme at all! Is the organisation prepared / mature enough to actually run this programme? 
Rather than diving straight in there is a stage of establishing firm foundations before attempting to move forward. You work out waypoints along the way to get to your final vision. Typically way point on large programme might be 6 to 9 months apart. 

You ensure that your organisation architecture is fit for purpose. You can then move into creating / delivering capabilities – that you can’t do today but will enable you to realise benefits.

At some stage when you have reach the end of a major capability – have you done enough to realise the benefits? If yes stops.

Prioritised delivery of benefits enables you to look at capabilities that will be required. It gives you a way to plan – only for the short term, as much as is necessary as long-term will change. Only plan in detail the thing that you are going to do next. 

Steve then introduced a case study based on the business transformation of an organisation that he had previously worked for. The structure of the organisation was not tax-efficient such that they were losing 10’s of millions of pounds per year in tax that they didn't need to pay. The Vision set was ‘to re-structure the organisation into new set of companies in order to become tax efficient.’

The case study looked at three tranches. One key area to get right was how they would order and deliver goods with the new company structures [new supply chain capabilities]. Once this was done they were then able to look at the accounting capabilities and once this was in place they were able to do the full separation of the company.

Initially the Tranche 2 and 3 were ‘fuzzy’ so in his slide Steve showed them appearing in sequence having previously been opaque.

Finally Steve talked about organisational structure which he described as splitting into two main components. The Programme management team is there to steer and guide rather than being command and control. People are set the overall vision and goals and people work within them.

Steve superimposed the roles and responsibilities from the case study.

The Group of Companies VP Finance who was well respected in the company and sat on the Board was suited to be the Business Programme Owner. It is the BPO who ultimately owns the vision really wants it to happen. He needs to be someone who is charismatic and wants to be involved, not in the detail but to let people get on with it. 

The Business Change Owners were responsible in their own lines of business. It is the benefits from the programme that get into their lines of business.

The Programme Manager needed to make sure the programme delivers and the capability delivery team. Technical architects extended beyond the traditional enterprise architecture roles into legal and finance.

Business analyst from IT took on the crucial role of stakeholder engagement coordinator. All stakeholders need to understand the programme, are ready to commit resources to it and are ready to be ambassadors for it.

Steve concluded by discussing Governance. It needs to unbureaucratic, well communicated to all stakeholders with decisions being made at the lowest possible level.

Steve Messenger's presentation can be viewed below or on Slideshare.


There followed a questions with Steve and John on the day. The Q and A sessions can be viewed in the attached documents below.


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