Agile is easy to understand and difficult to do well. Before agile came waterfall — a seemingly great concept for technical delivery. In a nutshell, it focuses on what you want to achieve and uses the time and resources you have to achieve it. Simple enough, right? Anyone who has ever delivered a project will be thinking, ‘Great, if you have sufficient time and resources for the task’. Of course, most projects do not.  

When agile arrived, it “flipped the triangle”, so to speak. With constrained time and resources being an inevitability in most cases, agile projects focus on what you can realistically achieve with the time and resources you have. Furthermore, agile teams focus not on building “all-encompassing” solutions but minimum viable products. Simply:

-Agile: Time and cost are fixed, and the scope is a variable.

-Waterfall: The scope is fixed, and time and cost are variables.

One sounds considerably more realistic than the other… 

Agile in practice 

For organisations transitioning from waterfall to agile, the big question they face is: What does this mean for the way we operate? It is more difficult for those tied up in complicated procurement routes — they are stuck in the “money and scope” cycle. By its nature, this approach clashes with agile (which runs through iterations and phases). Proving an agile mindset must go beyond delivery in order to be embedded, and switching is not just a case of adopting a new methodology.  

You can’t change the nature of the beast 

Priorities change. Nothing can be done about that. However, what we can do is highlight the disruption and inefficiencies that those changes lead to and hope to navigate future changes better using a structured approach (and by embracing effective stakeholder management). The first step is to understand your stakeholders’ priorities.  

Those with the most to lose: In our experience, this is particularly interesting with a new client that is selecting their supplier for the first time. The truth is that the client has probably stuck their neck out on a smaller supplier, and they have a lot to lose internally. Their own personal credibility, knowing that we may or may not deliver the project on-time, and many other perfectly understandable worries, such as: 

-Relationships between departments

-Relationships with senior stakeholders

-The respect of your team, especially juniors

We must work with them to manage change and understand why they are reacting the way they are to it. Experienced managers might say, ‘That change will cost us money. If there is no more budget for that project, then what do they/we do about it?’ This is why agile works better in most cases — fixing scope and cost, while varying functionality.  

Agile is not the wild west 

There are multiple factors to consider if you are to implement agile in the correct way. Agile does not equate to no structure or control — it is simply a paradigm shift in the way you hand the “triple constraint” (as outlined above). There is still a need for controls, change management, detailed plans, and communication, all of which ensure control, but in a different way. Failure comes when it is treated as a free-for-all. The advantage of agile is that you can deliver change more rapidly while still retaining control — enabling you to prioritise and pivot on the fly. 

 How to manage stakeholder risk 

Those who are new to organisations, and particularly senior leaders, have a lot to lose. Helping those individuals to manage their stakeholders (and understand the impact of their decisions and changing priorities) is of vital importance. They need to be successful, but they also need to understand what success is. For Automation Logic, we empower our clients to demonstrate their successes — and the value of what they have delivered — to their own stakeholders and peers. 

Much as we aspire to keep our clients happy, we know that real success comes down to helping them keep their internal clients happy. The people we work with will have programme or product leads, or people that they are accountable to. Understanding the organisation — and the promises they have made — enables us to have the right conversations around priorities early on. It does not necessarily make the task at hand any easier, but it gives context and removes silos. 

The key takeaways

-Agile is not an excuse for not prioritising — it is a tool to prioritise efficiently.

-When building trust with suppliers, identifying the key stakeholders is one of the most important elements to success.

-The person who you are dealing with — and the person capable of making the decisions that you need to be made — are not always the same person.

-Working together with your client at every step, and communicating your successes, always comes more easily if you are as open as possible at the beginning.

In our next article, we will share our insights on how a lack of numbers leads to a lack of success.

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