Perhaps part of the explanation lies with three essential elements that we find are often overlooked among companies working with agile methods. These three elements are not an exhaustive coverage of what it means to work with agile, but their impact should nevertheless not be underestimated.
In short, the essence of the three essential elements can be described in one word: leadership.
1) Redefine your role as leader
First of all, succeeding with agile starts with leadership. One of the key values when working with agile is empowerment, and you cannot have empowerment without leadership. To empower your teams, you should see yourself as a supporter of your employees – not the other way around as is perhaps the most common view. In other words: “Ask not what the team can do for you, but what you can do for the team”.
This concept is called servant leadership and should be a cornerstone in your organisation’s work with agile.
In short, servant leadership is about letting go of some of the control and taking on a role where you as the leader paves the way for your employees to do their job as efficiently as possible. You create a culture of trust, transparency and openness where your employees feel comfortable speaking up when they encounter obstacles or issues that prevent them from doing their work in the best way possible.
Your employees may sometimes be allocated to teams you are not leading. And your employees will need to be able to focus on work in these teams to be efficient. This means that it is your job as the leader to keep your employee from being burdened with tasks from other projects or you!
It is a common mistake to simply add on the additional teamwork to an already full workload. Instead, you need to prioritise in a way that enables your employee to focus on the work in the teams.
And this leads us to the next essential element of working with agile methods: language.
2) Establish a shared language
A critical element of any community is a shared language. This also applies to agile.
For the organisation to truly be agile, it is necessary for the agile working principles to become an integrated part of the entire organisation, not just certain teams. Our recommendation is therefore to create a basis for a common language within the organisation.
We often see companies beginning by certifying a large number of employees, but this will not build momentum and a joint language that fits with your context.
In our experience, the solution is to have a few people certified and then have those people train the rest of the organisation through internal programmes, where your organisational context is taken into consideration. This way, you ensure that everyone is up to speed on the new ways of working, and the organisation can work together on creating a common language. Do not make it a compliance thing. Make sure sessions are held on a regular basis so that those who missed it or new colleagues can easily catch up.
On a side note, you should consider creating your own terms that fit your organisation. Make the language your own to create ownership. Just like you should never use frameworks 100% out of the box, you should do the same for the agile language. Maybe you like the word iteration better than sprint? Does it make more sense to you to call it a domain or a value chain? What should you call your daily stand-up meeting, Scrum of Scrums, SOS, etc. The terms should fit your organisational context, otherwise they will not stick over the long haul.
And speaking of long haul, this leads us to the third and last essential element of working with agile.
3) Make time for reflection and feedback
Agile is a method designed for solving complex challenges, and it is important to realise that agile does not necessarily means faster. It is important to realise that stressing for quick solutions is not the desired approach, since complex challenges require time for reflection. However, managers often assume that the answer to getting the desired output faster is more resources. It is not.
It takes time to set up dedicated teams with the required skills, and you risk complicating matters further by continuously introducing new people to the teams without allocating time for training and allowing time for things to settle.
You can also help your teams by setting realistic deadlines. It is in fact a prerequisite for success that plans are realistic, and that the execution is effective. So why not skip the stretched plan that no-one really has faith in anyway and set out with a feasible and realistic plan? You only risk being positively surprised by an early delivery.
In other words, seek to focus on optimising conditions for your teams instead of automatically allocating more resources. At the end of the day, if you want to achieve motivated teams and strong results by working with the agile method, your job is to create the optimal conditions for your employees, and one of those conditions is time for reflection and feedback.
Always remember that nine women can’t give birth to a child in one month. You have to be realistic and let complex matters evolve.