Your company may be seriously considering agile management, or may have already committed to this strategy. But while it is easy to understand in concept, agile management can be much harder to successfully implement. It requires an extensive collaborative effort of cross-functional teams, which can be difficult to accomplish.
Here are seven ways to help make sure your company's first steps into agile management are solid and effective. (While I stand by all of these suggestions, I believe companies shouldn't proceed without accomplishing these first three steps.)
1. Align executive management with the new M.O.
Even when everyone says they're committed to agile management, different leaders may implement a variety of approaches to agile that could water down the results across the organization. Some managers may passively agree to agile management, but haven't proactively voiced their support or, worse, are privately working to maintain the status quo.
Agile management requires the entire team to align on the overall goals and the value it can deliver to the company. Everyone needs to agree with the plan for how it will get done.
2. Move beyond the pilot stage.
Excitement can get the first department or agile management project started, but it rarely lasts long enough to move into a broader implementation throughout the company. And while a pilot or a series of pilots can be successful, it's usually so narrow in scope that executive management don't use it to justify full implementation throughout the rest of the organization.
Once significant pilots are completed successfully, consider making implementation a top strategic priority. Take that knowledge and expand the pilot to other key areas of the company for a full agile management roll out.
3. Pay attention to any affects agile management has on your company culture.
Agile management is an entirely new way of operating a business. Ignoring the effect it could have on your company culture could be a mistake.
Leaders may have to change the way they used to guide their team and replace it with a more collaborative and cross-functional process.
That can sometimes mean less direct control for them. Some managers are reluctant to allow their teams to direct the work. They still want to have up-front detailed designs of the final product. In order to operate as an agile business, leaders must empower teams and employees, and minimize any corporate bureaucracy.
4. Develop a talent strategy.
Many companies don't think about the new talent they need for agile management. They may currently have a team that is used to their manager telling them exactly what to do and when to do it.
Some of these people may not be able to adapt to having more independent responsibility, but agile management requires it. It can become a problem if the company never explores:
- The specific skills required for a successful agile implementation.
- Where they will source this type of talent.
- How employees will be managed and supported during this transition.
- How to fire employees who do not adapt to the new process.
5. Hire experienced agile coaches.
As I've said, agile management is easy to understand, but much harder to implement. Left on their own, many organizations will fight or reject any change.
Outside assistance from agile coaches who have been through the process many times before can help support this type of change. I think it's important to engage with them up front in the planning process. Consider having them monitor progress and suggest changes throughout implementation.
6. Make a financial commitment to this process.
Implementing agile management can be financially scary for a leadership team: The iterative development process may require multiple rounds of funding and some leaders still want an exact budget and benefits for a project before it even gets started.
Agile management requires the ability to deploy financial resources rapidly as the teams require them and the project evolves. This means that there needs to be available, unbudgeted funds that can be applied to a project when the leaders need them—without the delay of additional levels of approval.
7. Be willing to risk failure through an iterative process.
Agile management gets just enough done to release a version of the product to the market to get feedback from customers and then improve it. Leaders must be able to accept that sometimes this may lead to less-than-optimal results in the short term. Experimentation by its very definition means that there will be failure most of the time.
What are some of your best tips for implementing agile management at your company?
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