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Being Agile

by Sysco Labs Agile 2 October 2017

In this Innovation Session, Dilhan Manaduwa, Director – QE & Process at Sysco Labs speaks on developing and maintaining an agile mindset and culture in his presentation, “Start Being Agile”.

Change is the only constant” is a Universal phrase which is ever so relevant event to present day, and due to this reason Being Agile is a method which a lot of forward thinking organizations are moving towards. “Being Agile” is certainly a term which is creeping in to the business world day by day.  For an organization to be Agile, it requires time and a lot of effort from everyone involved in the process, especially the management, in order to make the transition easier. Being agile is not something that can be accomplished overnight, it requires a cultural change, employees’ mindset should be adaptable and most importantly, the way that the employees are being managed, trained and motivated should be done in a certain way that benefits the transition to an agile culture.

An Agile culture advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continuous development throughout, and it pushes for flexibility and easy response towards change.

As I explained earlier, being agile is not a thing anyone can adopt overnight; it’s a long and difficult journey that should be seen through to completion. To use sport as an analogy, anyone who wishes to become a runner can pick a pair of shoes and start running, but to be really good, it takes years of training, discipline,  and a never give up attitude. The journey to develop an Agile mindset is similar.

Being Agile vs Doing Agile

  • Doing Agile

Learning the practices and applying them without knowing the principles behind agile, and not knowing when to tailor and select practices is doing Agile.

  • Being Agile

Being Agile adopts and understands the principles, and applies the right practice; tailoring them to different clients and situations accordingly.

Why is being Agile so important?

Compared to the past, technology and society are changing rapidly, making adaptability a key trait in the modern era. Being Agile ensures that the organization is thoroughly fluent in Agile and the ideology is core to the way the organization operates, instead of merely being a practice. Following are a few organizations that have successfully assimilated Agile thinking and practices:

  • Microsoft – This company is a 41-year-old organization making a huge dent in the tech industry worldwide. Earlier in 2007, Microsoft was limiting the amount of feedback they received from customers and had a three-year cycle of releasing Windows. Since 2014, Windows has gone through a remarkable change where they issue weekly updates, and now have more than 7 million users and. This was not only due their business growing at an immense rate, but also because employees were motivated to do more after seeing their ideas being implemented.
  • Spotify – This is the world’s biggest music streaming application with over 2,500 staff and more than 100 million active users worldwide – all this was achieved within a span of 8 years. The concept of Being Agile was brought up when the team was trying to figure out a simple problem of how users can stream music based on their personal preference and not get tired by listening to the same song repeatedly. They could accomplish this by adopting an agile system.
  • Ericsson – With over 400,000 employees working worldwide, Ericsson manages 40% of the world’s mobile phone traffic and manages networks for telecommunications companies. Before the agile system was implemented, Ericsson had a 5-year cycle, with a unit housing of several thousand people. After the system was built, it would be shipped to the telecoms and it would take even longer to push out features based on the requirements of the requester. After adopting the agile way of thinking into their culture, Ericsson had over a 100 small teams working on customer requests in a three-week cycle, allowing them to develop and push customer requested features faster.

How should you continue your transformation?

As mentioned earlier, this process is a long-term commitment. Even after an organization has adopted agile practices and ways of thinking, it still needs to be able to sustain it.

A few points to continue the transformation;

  • Figuring out if we are there yet – Identifying where the organization stands when it comes to being agile, and making sure that the culture is changing according to plan.
  • Changing the mindset of the people – Humans are resistant to change because that’s how we’ve been wired, but changing minds is a crucial step towards maintaining an Agile culture.
  • Eliminate a culture of fear – Most people are not afraid of failure, they’re afraid of getting blamed, so cultural change should involve eliminating this culture of fear. If an organization has a culture of fear no matter what fancy practices they apply, none of it will matter.
  • Make sure employees know that they have,
    • Psychological safety – Can they take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
    • Dependability – Can they count on each other to do high quality work on time?
    • Structure and clarity – Are goals, roles, and execution plans on the team clear?

It is important to note that although being agile holds a lot of benefits and is a very popular concept in tech based organizations right now, blindly adopting agile practices is never a good idea. There is no one way of implementing Agile, as long as you focus on your own organizational goals and not stray from its core principles, your organization should be well on its way towards successfully adopting and being Agile.

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