Agile - the new frontier`

Insights from the Agile Conference report.

The theme of this year’s annual, two-day Agile Business Conference was organisational change – and how to deal with it in today’s ever-evolving business market. Changing customer needs, new technologies and legislation and the pressures of competition are amongst the issues that businesses must address – and fast. Delving more deeply into Agile, the event this year exploded the common misconception that “being Agile” is as simple as adopting Agile principles, emphasising the importance of enacting authentic cultural change to really ingrain Agile within organisations.

The conference is always a hot ticket and this year was no exception, with a wide selection of presenters, including some of the leading figures in the field of Agile. Key speakers, including Dan North, of Dan North Associates with his talk “You Keep Using That Word”, Global Eloquence’s Bradley Honnor who delivered “Remote Control: The art of leading global teams” and Mike Beaven of the Government Digital Service whose talk was entitled “The Digital Transformation of Public Services”, were very engaging and provided great examples of successful Agile implementations, along with field notes on key pitfalls including: the failure to include members of the organisation and the risks of slipping back into waterfall methodologies. In particular, customers recounting their own experiences of utilising Agile with implementation change really resonated well. Andrew Lee, MD at William Hill and Michael Short, COO at Radtac, shared insights into how they have collaborated to adopt Agile at William Hill, and are now rolling it out across the wider corporate structure, employing full-time staff to ensure Agile remains at the core of the development of the William Hill organisation.

The programme of workshops also provided some valuable takeaways on topics, including how to deal with distributed teams. Interactive sessions provided a good change of pace. Particularly interesting were sessions on the challenges posed by managing change and achieving buy-in from organisations, that covered tactics for dealing with different personas within an organisation and the importance of demonstrating to teams what’s in it for them.

David J. Anderson raised interesting issues about using personas for analysing user experience, drawing our attention to the ways in which organisations tend to neglect the plurality of users’ requirements. Using the example of a pizza delivery service, he described how an individual may have two entirely different sets of requirements based upon their circumstances: using the service to order pizza for the team during a late night in the office, for instance, versus ordering for a Friday night family dinner.

Our very own Matt Cheung’s presentation seemed to really connect with the audience. He addressed the challenges associated with scaling Agile across global organisations. Matt made the problem very tangible for the audience and highlighted the importance of the “sunshine path” approach to help produce rapid benefits during delivery. You can view the slides from his presentation here.

Our team also lent a hand with Matt Roadnight’s interactive user story-slicing session. The workshop provided attendees with new tools to help them think about splitting user stories by feature and to rationalise their approach, finding the most simple option to then build upon.

The final keynote by Ahmad Fahmy bought the conference to a close rather well, exploring the possible pitfalls of implementing agile in large organisations (particularly in the banking industry). Fahmy focussed upon the crucial importance of hiring the right people and emphasised how organisations can avoid “waterfall creep” by ensuring that they don’t simply label the old waterfall structures with Agile names. References to The Matrix and the A-Team drove his points home, making Agile principles tangible and entertaining in equal measure.

As seasoned Agile practitioners, the Smart Tips team were very familiar with many of the tools, techniques and methodologies up for debate. However, the insights shared about organisational cultures, particularly how to go about assessing a business’s Agile-readiness – and to bring them quickly up to speed – were fascinating. The main takeaway for us was the crucial role that organisational and personal culture plays in the success of Agile implementations – although, as expected, we concluded that with Agile there’s no silver bullet.

Other key takeaways:

  • Ensure the team works with a shared understanding.
  • Agile working is a behavioural trait.
  • Pick the best slice – one that solves a real business problem and where success is achievable.
  • Cultural change is the most difficult part of Agile delivery and there is never simply one answer.
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