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Adopting Agile Beyond Software

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Eduardo Nofuentes talked about agile beyond software at 1st conference in Melbourne, Australia. He explored how you can deploy the agile principles and values outside software development, and gave examples of how he has used them to increase business agility when working with call centres and other non-software teams.

Nofuentes showed how you could apply the agile manifesto more generally by changing some specific terms as "software development" and "working software" into more general terms:

We are uncovering better ways of working by doing it and helping others do it. Through this we have come to value:

Individual and interactions over processes and tools

Outcomes over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

He referred to Jeff Sutherland who wrote about the agile principles and values. The principles are general, not specific for software development. If you are already applying these mindsets and principles to your team or organization, you are already doing agile said Nofuentes.

Agile practices have to fit the business needs said Nofuentes. Regardless of the practices you use, they have to fit a business purpose; don’t start with the agile methodology or practice, start with the business problem you are trying to solve and then apply the agile practice that can help fix that problem.

He gave examples of agile practices for any teams, which are described in his blog post 4 agile practices you can start with your team tomorrow. One example that he presented was how teams can use the daily stand ups to inform each other on what they are working on and to synchronize. Daily stand ups can be used to find synergies amongst all the projects and tasks that teams are working on said Nofuentes. Sometimes teams think that they don’t need it and skip them. This can result in people sending emails in stead, which needs more time.

Nofuentes mentioned the three waves of agile by Charlie Rudd. The first wave was about establishing small agile teams to produce better software; the second wave involved trying to integrate and coordinate work across different agile teams and the third wave is about bringing business agility to the entire organisation.

According to Nofuentes the key ingredients to achieve that organizational agility are:

  1. True customer focus
  2. A Lean approach
  3. Brave leadership

With respect to true customer focus he mentioned the shareholder value trap. Many organizations think that their main purpose should be maximizing shareholder value. Next they try to reduce the costs or increase the price, instead of focusing on the needs of their customers. Nofuentes stated that "we must shift the focus of companies back to the customer and away from shareholder value". System thinking or design thinking can help to overcome silos and establish flow in organizations.

To achieve a lean approach, organizations should nurture a culture where people look for ways to eliminate waste, add value for the customers, and improve the flow of work. Some examples of waste are unnecessary meetings, reporting, estimation, and detailed business cases. One of the attendants gave the example of doing four hours of sprint planning for a sprint of one week. You have to look for ways to make things simpler; simplicity can be a competitive advantage.

An agile transformation will not succeed if you do not have a brave leader. A major characteristic of brave leadership is having a servant mindset. Brave Leaders are there to remove roadblocks, not to tell people what to do. They set a vision and give those that want to learn and grow a chance to experiment and fail. Brave leaders dare to be vulnerable by taking imperfect action and not being afraid of admitting that they don’t know the answer said Nofuentes.

To finish his talk, Nofuentes shared the Case Study of the transformation of the REA Group Contact Centre. He outlined the systems thinking approach they applied by adopting John Seddon’s philosophy of understanding value and failure demand and removing failure from the system.

The REA Group Contact Centre applies agile practices and methodologies like daily stand ups, kanban walls, retrospectives and visualization of work in a contact centre environment where calls need to be answered at all times. This approach enabled a more human system of work away from the more traditional approach to contact centre operations.

This approach resulted in a significant increase in the customer satisfaction and employee engagement results but more importantly in the happiness and resilience of the team.

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