Finding balance between Agile frameworks and mindset

When it comes to the journey of achieving agility, there is balance that one needs to strike between a focus on solely implementing Practises / Frameworks and only changing Mindsets / Principles.

On one end of the scale, there is an option or path that focuses on the culture, mindset and manifesto. This approach encourages and empowers team members to define what agility means in context to their organisation while using the manifesto and its 12 principles for direction.

On the other end of the scale, there are structured frameworks you can adopt, such as Scrum, SAFe, LeSS, etc. These frameworks provide specific team roles, structures, cadence details, and activities for team members to complete to enable them to achieve agility.

As a large organisation transitioning from traditional ways of working and looking to achieve agility, what approach should you use?

 

Our recommendation is for any large organisation in this situation, or for organisations scaling their approach beyond the team to the portfolio/program or enterprise, that the ‘right’ balance of both agile mindset and agile frameworks is best to enable success. Large organisations typically need to consider how do they evolve and do this while not putting their existing ways of working, such as legal, compliance and shareholder commitments at risk.

In this blog post, we will cover off how you can leverage both the agile mindset and principles to enable the ‘heart’ of agile, which supports the underlying culture change required to drive different behaviours, as well as, leveraging the agile frameworks to enable and support that change with ‘hard’ structure to provide a ‘freedom within a frame.’

Your Agility adventure starts now…

The quest and driver to achieve enterprise agility may commence in many ways across different organisations and teams. For example, the driver may be to improve delivery speed and efficiency to deliver faster to catch up or out-pace competitors. Or the driver may be to better understand customers to meet their needs and to ensure a customer-centric focus. Or it may be a combination of both. Either way, an agile evolution and journey has begun and questions on ‘where do we start?,’ ‘what choices do we need to make – now and later?,’ and ‘how do we actually do this’ begin. The agile manifesto provides a set of values and core principles, which many of us would not disagree with and would accept as common sense. But how do you convert those values and principles into action?

So how do we execute? Frameworks can provide a starting point

For example, two key principles from the Agile manifesto state:

  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.
  • Simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done – is essential.

Now, after reading these principles – one might wonder:

  • How do I reflect and adapt with the team?
  • What is the best way?
  • How should I maximise the amount of work not done?
  • How do I identify what work is not important?

There are techniques and practises provided within Agile frameworks that can be leveraged. Examples include retrospectives and prioritisation methods, which are a good starting point to enable adopting these principles. The key is to understand what others have done before to not only save time (maximise the amount of work not done) and so we can improve, do better, and apply to our context (tune and adjust).

As an organisation undertakes the journey to agility, it makes sense to take advantage of what has already been learnt by other organisations and broader industry expertise. Agile frameworks are evolving and being tuned based on the practical execution experience from a wide base of organisations.

Further examples of challenges faced by organisations which can be solved by taking guidance and leveraging some of the many agile frameworks are:

Challenge/Opportunity Framework and Practises
Ensuring collaboration between business and IT – how do we ensure what is being built is what is being asked for? Within Scrum, the Product Owner role brings the business and IT teams closer together through a dedicated role throughout delivery. The product owner also brings the IT teams closer to the customer by representing the customer views.
Ensuring delivery of the most valuable solutions to the customer first Within SAFe, the WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) prioritisation framework can be leveraged to ensure the most valuable solutions, which can be delivered quickly, are prioritised.
We need ways to get value out faster and continuously improve From Kanban techniques, using a ‘to do-in progress-done’ board to visualise work is useful to manage flow and WIP.

Scrum and SAFe retrospectives are a forum to openly share improvement areas and actions for the team to act on.

 

While these frameworks provide a good starting point, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge the thinking to come up with new ideas to make it better. If we think of what is inside your ‘agile tool box’ and the frameworks are the different tools, how do you select the right tool and leverage what others have learnt in terms of its use? How do you take the good bits and apply it in context to our organisation, leave the bad and make it better to call it your own?

Frameworks are a starting point, but they will not make you ‘be Agile’

Frameworks are also complex. Agile is meant to be simple. If you forget the simple principles of agile and get lost focusing on the complex frameworks instead of the customer, you might find that you are not seeing the benefits of being agile. If you’re too busy focusing on prescript implementation of these frameworks instead of customer value, you might find you are slowing yourself down. If you don’t embed the culture of continuous improvement and stay within the realms of a defined process, you probably won’t achieve agility within your organisation.

One of the dangers with using the frameworks as a starting point is if you try to apply these out of the box as defined, without tailoring to your context, and focusing solely on following the process for ‘process sake’. This results in teams and organisations falling into the same pitfalls as waterfall. As frameworks such as Scrum, SAFe, LeSS, were created by like-minded agilists, it is probably safe to assume that a prescriptive application of the frameworks was not the intended use or outcome of these agile frameworks.

To ‘be Agile’, Agile mindset and principles are essential. Culture is key.

Ultimately, the key message for anyone looking to improve your enterprise agility is that culture is key. If you don’t have the right culture and mindset, frameworks probably won’t help you on their own. The number one reason why agile evolutions do not succeed is the culture within an organisation has not changed.

There are a set of choices that organisations need to make in order to enable agility behaviours to align to a desired culture outcome.

Considering these choices and achieving these cultural attributes, can only be done if the right environment is created for people to be agile.

In summary, apply this mindset and embrace continuous improvement (while encouraging and empowering your team members to do the same) and you’ll be on the journey to agility (and might not even need these frameworks). But where some people have learnt lessons before you, take on-board that feedback fast by considering the existing frameworks, leverage these where it makes sense from your ‘agile tool box’, build on them, adapt them, and continue to evolve.

It’s ok to take a combination of culture, mindset and the many frameworks which are designed to achieve agility to ‘create your own agile evolution adventure.’ There is no one clear path for all on the journey to enabling agility.