What executives need to know about agile

As a born and bred Canberran, acronyms, jargon and buzzwords were rampant in kitchen conversations and at backyard BBQs growing up. But my first foray into the infamous ‘agile’ came a bit later in life…I was 27, living in London, eager to expand my marketing career and working for the much-adored mobile network, giffgaff.

As part of giffgaff’s customer relationship management team, we worked alongside the brand and marketing team, the community managers, and the tech and delivery teams to develop new functionality and communicate improvements to giffgaff’s members. Each fortnight started with ‘sprint planning’, in which we set out how we would deliver upcoming campaigns, releases and events in the community.

The agile management process works by teams taking a project and breaking it up into several stages. Through constant collaboration with stakeholders, teams continuously improve parts of these stages to meet – and even exceed – client expectations.

So, each morning in ‘stand-up’ as the daily morning coffee kicked in, teams shared what they had worked on yesterday, what they were working for the current day and whether there was anything holding them up.

I could go on about agile ceremonies – more on how they work and the benefits – but this is about the executive and what they need to know! At giffgaff, the CEO, CTO and CFO actively supported agile – and when that support is in place, I truly believe agile teams have better odds of succeeding.

Since giffgaff, I’ve seen agile teams at the Australian Taxation Office, Isobar and RD Consulting thrive under the right conditions. I have also witnessed some shockers, like teams coming undone because of executive over involvement or their less-than-ideal commitment to the agile transformation. The reality is that even the most necessary agile transformations can fail. If you’re an executive who wants the best results and high performing agile teams, consider the tips below.

  1. Your people will likely need training, coaching and possibly the support of some specialists to be scrum masters. Product owners could be needed too–at least until your teams are established and the training wheels are off.This investment in extra support might be required for a year or more.
  2. The team’s culture will deeply influence the success of the agile transformation and implementation. You need to back them to invest time in activities that will foster and improve culture.
  3. You must have patience and not expect instant results.‘Sprints’ may be fortnightly, but the agile methodology on the whole is a marathon.
  4. As the executive, you need to be involved in the initial working group to establish success factors, trial periods, timings, outcomes and next steps. Transformation doesn’t just happen–you need to be there supporting your people from the start, and then when they get going you need to step back and let them at it.

Adrienne from RD Consulting working on a laptop


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