What is Agile?
As an Implementation Manager at Ad Esse, I use Agile as an approach to project management. In a nutshell, Agile pushes you to deliver value early and often, and enables you to make project changes quickly, based on regular feedback. Having a deep understanding of the principles and how to practically apply them is the best way to get value from Agile; it becomes a mindset that helps you with continuous improvement, even after your project has finished.
Work faster, be customer-approved & change direction quickly
There are lots of benefits for Agile project implementation. Here are my top ones:
- Completing work faster. Experiencing value early and often can have a powerful effect on your team, motivating them to push forward and complete more tasks quickly.
- Customer-focus. Agile naturally puts the emphasise on the customer because feedback is part of the gradual delivery. They have more control to make changes to your product / service / process, whatever you’re trying to implement. Agile allows you to focus more on your customers and shine a light on their needs, allowing you to tailor your offerings gradually instead of storming ahead in the wrong direction.
- Optimises workflow. If something unexpected happens that is out of your control (like a pandemic, or change in legislation), your project team is equipped with the ability to adapt easily and quickly.
Five simple steps to deliver your Agile project
1. Plan your implementation
Every project is different, so naturally every plan will different. Realistic timeframes and effective planning provide you with the best chance of project success. Here are examples of what we do at Ad Esse during the plan:
Team board. We provide an overview of the project with a team board; this is a Kanban board that outlines all the tasks that need to be completed. This helps you to see your work in progress and avoids overstretching your resources.
MoSCoW. This tool is used for prioritisation and stands for ‘must haves’, ‘should haves’, ‘could haves’, and ‘would haves’. Don’t ask us what the ‘O’s stand for! I’ve explained this tool in more depth below.
Must haves: These are actions that are vital to the success of your implementation project. E.g. The project would not be legal or safe without these actions.
Should haves: These actions are painful to leave out, but overall, the implementation would still be a success. E.g. You want to digitise a tenancy signup form, rather than take paperwork; this would improve efficiency and remove waste. But for other reasons, you can’t implement the digital signup forms. This will create duplication of work, but the project will be a success because you still have tenancy signup forms.
Could haves: Actions that are desirable but less painful than ‘should haves’. E.g. You want new branding on the tenancy signup forms. It’s aesthetic rather than functional and non-essential.
Won’t haves: Don’t have enough time to implement these actions within the timeframe of the project. If they don’t fall into the other categories, why worry about them? These could be related to cost or other developments going on at the same time, making these actions unnecessary. E.g. Another department might be doing something similar.
Increment & time box planning. The project is broken down into approximately six manageable sections called increments), which could be completed in two months, for example. Each increment is then looked at more closely to determine a list of tasks that need to be done in order to complete the project increment. The list of tasks is grouped into 2-3 time boxes and you allocate a period of time to each box (2 weeks, for example), depending on how long you want the project to last. See our diagram below to help explain.
2. Have your governance in place
This involves agreeing how you are going to communicate internally to stakeholders & the core team, and externally to gain feedback from customers. It’s also important to think about how you’re going to manage risk; we fill in a risk register during daily stand ups, but you could find a different way. You don’t need your solutions yet before starting the project, but you do need to know how you’re going to approach risk management.
3. Have your people in place
For your Agile project, you need to determine your:
- Core team – these are the people responsible for actually doing the actions.
- Project lead – who is going to manage the project? E.g. Ad Esse’s Implementation Manager.
- Stakeholders – these must be agreed before the project starts. You will communicate and report progress to key stakeholders.
4. Team meetings (Daily stand ups)
The core team have daily stand ups (the Agile term for daily meetings). Everyone takes turns to say what they’ve been working on, completed tasks and future plans. This is an opportunity to share any risks, issues or blockers; during this time, we capture any risks on a risk register and assign ownership. For instance, who’s going to resolve that issue? How are we going to collectively think of a solution? Etc.
5. Reviews & feedback
Regular reviews after time boxes and increments flag whether you are on track to meet your deadlines in real time. This gives you multiple opportunities to make changes to your project, ensuring it is a success.
Time box review. This is done after every completed time box to review the actions. For instance, how many tasks were completed in the time allocated for the time box? What did you learn? What could you have done better? Are there any blockers to moving forward / completing actions? This is feedback for the core team.
Project review report. This is done at the end of each completed increment. In this review, you capture and feedback what has been delivered and key learning points. This feedback is delivered primarily to the stakeholders for governance, but is also shared with the team as good practice.
What makes a good Agile Implementation Manager?
I would say great leadership & communication is needed to support and guide the core team throughout the project. If there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, pans may start flying. With lots of ideas bouncing around, it is the Agile Implementation Manager’s job to reign it in. Knowing how to people with different personalities to work collaboratively requires strong leadership skills, as team members may need different support.
Decision-making skills and keeping calm under pressure are essential. As an Agile Implementation Manager, you’re going to be in situations where the team are stressed, issues develop, and deadlines are creeping closer. Making quick, sound decisions and being able to reassure the time by example are good qualities to have for this role.
Knowledge of the sector allows you to hit the ground running and implement solutions quickly.
Be able to adapt effectively in changing environments. The biggest example of this is Covid and adapting to working as a team in a virtual, remote setting.
Focus and prioritisation are important. Staying on task can be difficult, especially when your core team may be dragging you down lots of different tangents. Identifying and eliminating non-essential work and focusing on priority tasks will ensure successful project delivery.
My top three tips for effective Agile project delivery
If you’re new to Agile as an organisation, I would recommend delivering one project to start with. Get feedback and learn from your first Agile project, before moving onto the next. To give your Agile project the best chance of success, use an expert to deliver the project for the most reliable proof of concept.
Fully understand Agile. One of the things that attracts people to Agile is the idea of delivering early and often. Everyone wants to see results and they want to see them now. Although it’s tempting to dive straight in, take your time to understand the practice. If you rush in without a clear understanding, you’re less equipped to deal with issues and roadblocks along the way.
Don’t ‘do Agile’ to just deliver a project quickly. If applied right, it becomes a culture and way of working. ‘Be Agile’ and collaborate effectively on issues that crop up in the future.
Two tips for Agile working in remote teams / office hybrid
An agreed method of communication is my most important tip for any team who are not physically all together in the same room at the same time. Whether you’re all working virtually, or a mixture of some homeworking and office working, a visual way of communicating is needed to work effectively as a team. The way you communicate, and frequency of communication will largely depend on the intensity of the project turnaround, the number of people involved, the core team’s availability, etc.
Timekeeping & discipline will be important to stick to your timeline for the project. When you’re not communicating in real time face to face, it can be easy to fall behind. You have to make more of an effort to have daily meetings and slightly more documentation because you can’t walk over to someone’s desk to have a chat. Keep on task and finish the actions that you said you would do, otherwise issues will arise. Meet when you say you’re going to meet, because time is precious and it can be difficult to get hold of people with home schooling, IT issues, not answering the phone, etc.
Why bring in an external Agile Implementation Manager?
Agile is not intuitive; it’s not something that you can read about and do for yourself. A qualified expert can show you how to be Agile and transfer practical skills to your project team. Having worked with a range of other clients, an external Agile Implementation Manager will bring an extra layer of expertise and knowledge.
An unbiased perspective will benefit your project delivery because an external person will look objectively at the tasks that need to be done and focus solely on implementing actions that benefit the whole organisation. Whereas internal employees may unintentionally be biased and lean towards departments or people they know or get on well with; their personal preferences will influence their decision for what needs to be implemented first.
Ultimately, an external Agile Implementation Manager is a dedicated resource that is 100% focussed on achieving the outputs desired from the project. Instead of being pulled onto different projects and having to share time, an external manager is going to guarantee that your project is delivered on time and successfully.