Have you tried becoming Agile? You’ll feel the benefit

New competitive threats. Changing market dynamics. Technological developments. Ever more demanding customers. The pressure on companies to transform and adapt is immense. And the truth is traditional leadership models and processes cannot meet these challenges. The solution may lie in agile methodologies.

10 Minutes By Cosmina Pirlea Life Sciences 11/18/2020

At a Glance

  • In an ever-changing more complex world organizations are increasingly turning to Agile methodologies.
  • Agile can empower businesses to be more responsive, collaborative, and customer-centric, increasing the value delivered.
  • We share our experience of embracing Scrum, a popular Agile technique.

Agile was created by software developers in 2001

They believed traditional command and control management techniques hindered software development. These pioneers championed individuals and interactions over processes and tools. For them, working software trumped comprehensive documentation. Customer collaboration was more valuable than contract negotiations. And ultimately it was better to respond to change, rather than stick to a plan.

The result? Continuous improvement

Agile is a collective concept that includes different techniques that provide the ability to adapt quickly to new conditions. Agile methodology focuses on delivering the features that have the greatest business value first. And they were further improved via constant real-time customer feedback.

When applied to large-scale projects, the gains are dramatic

Agile can deliver instant, frictionless, personalized responsiveness at scale. A great example of this is Spotify’s Discover Weekly.

No surprise then that Agile is used in almost every aspect of our lives

After all, it’s been created to deal with rapid change. Agile helps us cope with today’s turbulent, customer-driven marketplace. It enables us to shift, pivot and roll with our uncertain and complex world. Since its inception, Agile has been used across industries to develop software, hardware, networks of interacting functions, autonomous vehicles, schools, hospitals, governments and marketing, and to manage the operations of organizations and almost everything we use in our daily lives.

Agile methodologies are widely used in:

  • The development of products and services
  • Strategic planning activities
  • Supply chain management
  • Management of the parent organizations

This is because the essence of Agile is adaptivity

And that makes it ideal in situations where:

  • Problems are complex.
  • Solutions seem unclear.
  • Project requirements can change.
  • Collaboration with end users is possible.

‘Scrum’ is one of the most widely used Agile methodologies

Agile methodologies, particularly Scrum, are based on a set of values, principles, team roles, events (meetings) and artifacts, and the rules that bind them together. Agile methodologies are alternatives to command-and-control management styles. When managed correctly Scrum creates a collaborative and rapid way of working. It can be applied to even the most complex projects. Like all Agile methodologies it keep a team close to customers. This enables rapid adaptation to changes. A Scrum team is a small, self-governing group of 4–9 people that includes a:

  • The Product Owner
  • Development Team
  • Scrum Master

It’s vital they have all the knowledge and skills required to achieve project goals. Without that the process will not work.

The three principles that underpin Scrum Teams

1. Transparency
The work must be always visible

 2. Inspection
Work and progress must be frequently inspected by the team.  This is to detect any potential obstacles to success.

3. Adaptation
If issues arise that push the plan beyond agreed limits, adjustments are made to minimize deviation.

The Scrum events

The Sprint Planning

During sprint planning, the entire scrum team collaborates and discusses the desired high-priority work for the sprint and defines the sprint goal. The scrum master’s role is primarily to facilitate the meeting. The product owner describes the product goal and also answers questions from the development team about execution and acceptance criteria/criteria of satisfaction.

The Sprint
No more than four weeks in lengths with a specific goal to achieve. A ‘Daily Scrum’ or meeting is tabled every day. This lasts 15 minutes in which objectives, progress and potential blockers are discussed.

The Sprint review
At the end of each Sprint, the customer receives the result, which is already suitable to use in their business.

Sprint Retrospective
A sprint retrospective brings the scrum team together to discuss the previous sprint. The purpose is not to evaluate work outcomes but to talk about the interactions, tools, and processes the team used during the latest period of work.

Retrospectives are usually held at the end of each sprint, and it helps the team assess how they work together and strive toward ever-better collaboration.

Scrum focuses on personal responsibility

Individuals performing the tasks take ownership. They estimate their completion times, which is very different to classic project management methods.

So what are the benefits of a Scrum methodology?

  • Higher customer satisfaction.
    As a result of constant demonstration of improvements and ongoing engagement and feedback.
  • Higher product quality.
    Through constant testing and continuous improvement.
  • Increased project control.
    For example, via daily Scrum meetings
  • Reduced risks. 
    Short Sprints reduce the lag between feature development and adaption to changing customer needs.
  • Faster ROI. 
    Because it focuses on business value. This allows the client/customer to determine the priority of features, creating a functional, ready-to-market product in a few iterations.

To introduce Agile, start small and let the word spread

Typically, launching company-wide change programs are a massive effort. The most successful introductions of Agile start small, often in IT. This is because software developers are familiar with the principles. From there it can move into other functions. Your original practitioners can act as coaches.

Success breeds success

You’ll soon find you have a group of passionate evangelists who will tell others in the organization how well Agile works. And from there it becomes easier to introduce across your company.

Successful implementation requires a mindset change

As a large organization you may well have layers of management and bureaucracy. Your teams will need real commitment, leadership, and perseverance to remove bottle necks created by this structure. Executive Sponsorship, Training Programs and Internal Agile coaches can also help you scale faster.

Our learnings from applying Scrum

The concepts, rules, thinking and methods were easy to understand. Once the training was completed, we decided to simulate a Sprint. These were our main learnings from the exercise:

It takes time to internalize the concept of self-governing teams.
Title and seniority don’t matter in Scrum. It’s all about the work. And that’s not always easy to embrace.

In the beginning, it can feel chaotic.
Scrums do fly in the face of traditional approaches. Team members can feel like they are losing control. This can become an implementation blocker.

Whilst easy to understand, Scrum takes time to master.
A test-and-learn mindset is critical. As is being ready to fail fast and then improve.

Constant feedback is essential.
This keeps the Scrum rolling and, consequently, why being transparent is so important.

Leadership needs to understand and support the process.
The Scrum Team should be empowered and autonomous. Trust the process. Don’t start adding reviews or controls. It’s very tempting when things seem to go wrong. But remember, failure is part of the process. Interventions erode the benefits that Scrums deliver.

Agile methodologies like Scrum offer huge benefits

However, they require work. Don’t underestimate how high emotions may run as people and new processes collide. Hiring an Agile coach can help navigate around these challenges. But for Scrum to work the entire organization needs to support the implementation by adopting the change in mindset and behaviours required. Ultimately the yield from Agile depends on the efforts that go into its implementation. Get it right and your teams and organizations will excel.

About the author

Cosmina is a Client Service Partner in our Zurich office. She joined the team in 2019 and her journey to date has given her insights and experience in several industries ranging from Life Sciences to FMCG. She brings the ability to solve customer challenges and implement strategy, agile and digital solutions. She supports our clients in the Life Sciences industry, across various functions with a focus on solving their strategic and transformation implementation challenges.

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