Mark Welsh, Digital Transformation Program Lead, Bunnings Group Ltd
Agile and agility have now become common place terms we hear on a daily basis. Once solely in the realm of software developers but now so “normal” that we hear even sports people and politicians regularly mention it. However, what does agile and more importantly agility, actually mean. For every use there is a different interpretation which leads to misunderstanding and confusion when it comes to what being agile is all about. In my experience, it is best described as our ability to respond.
The term agile, originally coined in 2000-2001, was used to describe an approach to software development. It spawned a generation of free-spirited developers and kick-started a movement that thrived on flexibility and desire to rid themselves of the constraints of traditional development cycles. This is the environment from which Scrum, Lean, and Kanban, as well as many other agile methodologies, grew. However, fundamental to the application of agile is how it directly impacts our ways of working, and this mirrors the principles of agile teams grounded in the Agile Manifesto.
Fast forward to today and the now almost ubiquitous adoption of agile, regardless of how faithfully they are applied. How does an agile approach translate into agility in project management practice? Given that specific methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban are more easily applied to software development, we should look to the principles of agile teams to best understand how to apply agility to project management.
Agile teams are characterized by highly collaborative, self-organizing small groups, where trust, goodwill, and openness are the core behaviors. The team is focused on achieving a collective goal and employs a strategy of “Try-Test-Learn.” In reality, the most complex elements of any project are the management of its people. The highly unpredictable nature of people is at the heart of this complexity, and by applying these agile principles to project delivery, teams is an ideal way to address the volatile nature of project management. When considering this, as a project manager, it would seem obvious that building delivery teams with these characteristics would be our ultimate goal.
Agile teams are characterized by highly collaborative, self-organizing small groups, where trust, goodwill, and openness are the core behaviors
As a project manager, the first step would be to build trust in order to create goodwill and openness within the team. The next step is to empower the team and encourage self-direction and self-organization. Heavy-handed control should be shelved when managing teams in this way and by allowing the team to “fail fast” and “learn fast,” a positive feedback loop will be created, further reinforcing the team’s collective goal. Underpinning all of this, the project manager must create an environment of collaboration and cooperation supported by modern collaboration tools to overcome any constraints related to team location, cultural differences, and language.
In summary agile ways of working can be directly applied to project management practice. There are clear benefits in doing this, but project managers must relinquish traditional control by empowering small teams that encourage a try-test-learn approach in a fail-fast environment.