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PRAGMATIC AGILE IN PRACTICE
We recently published a series of articles on the topic of pragmatic Agile and how its approach and methods can impact organizations of all sizes. As a way to highlight pragmatic Agile in real life practice, we wanted to provide an example of how one of our consultants utilized pragmatic Agile while supporting a client.
Senior Consultant Rob Anteau, has been working with Agile and waterfall teams for decades. Even before joining TGG, he developed a similar perspective to the implementation of Agile. Below is a recent example of an impactful Agile adoption Rob oversaw at one of our clients.
Rob was a project manager leading an effort to modernize a software platform used by the client. The project was sponsored by “traditional IT” and many leaders dismissed Agile concepts in their initial plans, nor was that even part of their culture. Rob challenged this.
First, Rob left the Agile vocab and dogma at the door. The company culture wasn’t hospitable to the new terminology, so he didn’t push it. Rob started with a two week time-box with a planning session. The team got on board, finding freedom in the admission that they didn’t know everything at the beginning of the project.
Next, Rob introduced a retrospective, tailored specifically to his team. He framed it as a chance for the team to learn from their mistakes and to capitalize on strengths. He led by example, demonstrating what active engagement looked like.
This all required some heavy lifting on Rob’s part. He still had to create the 650 line project plan, and constantly translated the iterative work of his team into a report for leadership. He served as a lead blocker, allowing his team to iterate while he kept management informed. In the end, all parties were happy with the new setup.
Rob knew that elements of Agile would be helpful for his team, and understood he didn’t need to get there in one day. He took his time, gradually introducing elements and demonstrating their value. He didn’t need to act like the smartest guy in the room; rather, through servant leadership he demonstrated and cultivated the Agile mindset. As a result, his team experienced a mindset-shift, finding comfort in the idea that their work didn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. They came to see “good enough for now” as, well… good.
This was pragmatic Agile in practice. Whether our clients need support for a wholesale digital Agile transformation or just a little help along the way, we’re excited to partner with them to meet their goals.
More about Rob Anteau:
Rob is a technical program leader who is adept at developing and executing programs utilizing agile and waterfall methodologies across multiple industries, from healthcare to the public sector. With a background in IT infrastructure, cloud migrations, network operations, and cyber security projects, Rob uses his technical expertise and business acumen to bring stakeholders together to ensure quality and timely delivery. He places importance on communication and being adaptable to a variety of environments. Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in technology, Rob is committed to delivering a final product that is aligned with client objectives. Rob holds a B.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Vrije Universiteit as well as the following certifications; SAFe 5 Agilist, Scrum Master, ITIL, ISTQB, Prince2, Six Sigma Green Belt, and TMap. Rob is a fan of the maker movement and in particular enjoys electronics projects. His other passion is anything VW related; he owns a 1978 Westfalia.
EXECUTION PRACTICE Q&A WITH TRISHA BENNETT
At The Gunter Group we categorize our work into four practice areas: Technology, Execution, People, and Strategy, with client engagements often stretching across multiple service categories.
Our work within our Execution Practice supports clients as they pursue large transformation programs and change initiatives, in order to achieve complex and impactful objectives.
In this Q&A we explore our Execution Practice in greater detail with Trisha Bennett, Principal Consultant and Execution Practice Service Leader.
Tell us a little bit about the nature of work TGG focuses on within the Execution Practice:
Our Execution Practice is the intersection of all our practice areas and brings ideas to life for our clients. It’s about implementing strategies and using technology to align and serve people. These types of engagements usually take the shape of larger transformation programs or change initiatives. Our clients may think of these types of programs as focused efforts that just need to be executed, but we make sure that our team is bringing a perspective for how to realize strategic objectives through changes to the people, process, and technology ecosystem of a business.
Tell us about a recent engagement supporting a client initiative:
We have partnered with a national insurance provider that is undergoing an effort to move from their 20-year old legacy on-premise ERP to a more flexible cloud based solution using Workday Financials. Our consultants supported the organization’s business transformation by leading the program management, technical project management, business analysis, process design, and training strategy and delivery. This engagement was a great example of how our consultants in the Execution Practice used their skills in analysis and project management to make sense of a complex organizational, process, and system environment in a way that was collaborative but with a relentless focus on outcomes.
What do you anticipate impacting organizations over the next 3-5 years in the Execution category?
Organizations will do more projects in the digital space and these projects are going to require companies to show up differently for their customers and their employees. To make these changes happen, organizations can’t work in the same way that they were working. Internally these changes impact organization structures, internal communications, HR/hiring, and work has to be managed and measured differently.
Tell us about one of your favorite projects your team has worked on:
Working with executives in translating their visions of the digital space into executable work for the teams that make it happen. These range from creating a new customer experience for a health insurance company to standing up apps for retail sales.
More about Trisha Bennett:
For nearly 15 years Trisha Bennett has partnered with business leaders to advise and lead strategic initiatives in the healthcare, insurance, retail, education, and veterinary services industries. Her career has focused on delivering best-in-class portfolio strategy, program management, project management, and analysis. As a Practice Leader, Account Leader and Manager, Trisha leads teams of consultants to support clients, solving complex business problems. She has a proven dedication to deliver and a reputation for building highly effective project teams by seeking clarity and understanding, even in the most ambiguous environments. Trisha’s management style is focused on collaboration, transparency, and meaningful communication. Trisha holds a BA in Supply Chain Logistics and Business Management from Portland State University; she is also certified as a Project Management Professional, Change Manager, and SAFe Agilist.
PRESSING PLAY ON PAUSED PROJECTS IN THE COVID-19 ERA
Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, the way we live, and the way we interact with the world. To cope with these widespread changes, organizations have had to make tough choices and “hit the pause button”, delaying projects and strategic initiatives.
We are now seeing enterprises reinstating their paused projects and initiatives, but in a changed world where challenges such as limited and/or remote staff, constrained budgets, and emerging competing priorities need to be factored into the mix. Organizations need to relaunch project work in a strategic way that accounts for today’s ever-changing business climate as well as the increased pressure employees are facing while navigating the complex COVID era.
Before deciding to restart a project, consider the following questions:
1. Are there environmental, emotional, or other considerations that should be taken into account before kicking off this project again?
2. Is the project still relevant and does it represent a productive use of time?
3. Staffing levels may have been impacted. Team members may be overwhelmed with competing priorities. Does the organization have adequate staffing and resourcing for this project or is there a need to secure outside assistance to support internal staff?
4. Does this project provide clear benefits regardless of possible uncertainty in the future?
5. Are there risks and costs to the organization by further delaying the project?
Strategies for moving forward
Applying a comprehensive strategic framework to think through the complex logistical, financial, and human components of the project can help an organization ensure multiple angles have been considered before moving forward with stalled projects.
The steps outlined here are relevant for any project initiation, but it’s particularly crucial now to make sure that the organization is fully prepared to launch an initiative in a thoughtful and informed way.
Evaluate and Revise Strategy: As our global situation evolves, public health policies enacted to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 will impact the availability of resources and timing of many projects.
Additionally, it is important to re-evaluate the big questions—those considerations that are less tactical and for which planning is more difficult. How does this project align with the organization’s core values, and are those values changing in response to the impacts of COVID-19?
Lastly, there may be tactical components of the original project strategy that may not be conducive to a COVID-19 environment. For example, brainstorm sessions, project meetings, and testing will likely take place remotely. Timeline and toolset considerations may also need to be adjusted.
Align Stakeholders: Even in the best of times, projects often begin prematurely, before stakeholder alignment is adequately reached. Now more than ever, it is imperative for the success of any reinstated work that stakeholders are informed, aligned, and have a renewed commitment to contribute towards the successful culmination of the project. As appropriate, leaders should seek to foster stakeholder participation and feedback in the prioritization process to align on the purpose of the project and to provide consistent messaging to employees and consumers. Commence replanning efforts by conducting a stakeholder analysis and integrating the findings. Overlooking this vital step could result in major roadblocks and setbacks throughout the remaining life of the project.
Resource Project: The resources originally allocated for the project may now be unavailable, team members may lack required skill sets, or they may not currently have the bandwidth to contribute to another project. Therefore, the need for both external and internal support should be properly assessed.
Recently, McKinsey & Company emphasized the need for leaders to focus on reskilling and upskilling their workforce to deliver new business models in the post-pandemic era. Companies also face a learning curve as managers figure out how to lead their teams virtually, build social capital, and maintain cohesion without the benefit of in-person interactions. As companies contemplate returning to the workplace, a new set of skills is also likely to emerge for the transition.
Sometimes a major reskilling effort isn’t feasible or practical to fill key needs for a project. In this scenario, pulling in outside expertise or resources may be the best option. Consultants are often brought into the fold of a project to fill an experience, knowledge, or skill set gap or even as an extra set of hands for a daunting effort where the organization’s future hiring picture is unclear.
Build Execution Roadmap: As things continue to change, a well developed and clearly communicated execution roadmap will help keep the project team’s eye on the prize. The steps taken so far in restarting the project—updated strategy, aligned and informed stakeholders, and prepared project resources—are the building blocks of an execution roadmap. Identify where it is possible to include flexibility points in an execution strategy. Planning for potential changes to “Plan A” will allow for an easier path forward if additional unexpected changes occur in the life of the project.
Employ Agile Execution Model: There’s no better time than now to embrace an agile methodology. By definition, the agile project management methodology is designed to be collaborative, flexible, and adaptable to change, and the change introduced to organizations by COVID-19 has put it to the ultimate test. Research conducted by McKinsey & Company found that companies with agile practices embedded in their operating models have managed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis better than their non-agile counterparts.
Communicate and Engage the Org: Effective communication and engagement can be challenging, especially given the challenges of physical distance, work-life balance, physical distance, and a multitude of other distractions. Project details must be communicated to the right people at the right time.
Many organizations are also at the point where employees are hitting conference call and email fatigue. Since the majority of our communications are now limited to back-to-back video calls or an ever-expanding email inbox, communications are at greater risk of being lost in the shuffle.
Fortunately, there are many tools and resources available to help streamline communications in 2020, some of which may already be familiar and some lesser known:
– Facilitation tools (MURAL, retrium, MS Teams, klaxon, miro, STORMZ)
– Communication tools (Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts)
– Presentations & Meetings (Ideaboardz, Conceptboard, workplace, slack, Google Meet)
– Project Management (Smartsheet, Microsoft Planner, Teamwork, Confluence, Jira, Basecamp, Trello, asana, N)
– Team Building (Kahoot!, TEAM MOOD, Dr. Clue, donut)
– Events (Meetyoo, HEXAFAIR, ENGAGE, VIRTUALIST
Build Rapid Feedback Mechanisms: Integrating feedback loops, both internal and external, into the project’s workflow, such as cadences in the Kanban method, for example, offer a powerful communication tool that fosters efficient and continuous improvement through effective adaptation to the often evolving needs of one’s client. It is valuable to build a mechanism, such as frequent, effective meetings, to facilitate constant and constructive evaluation as a team.
Moving forward with grace
With all the tactical and strategic planning that is needed to evolve an organization or advance a project forward, it is important not to lose sight of the human element. The planning process should be imbued with emotional intelligence, described as the ability to appropriately apply emotion to manage and solve problems—an approach with many tangible and far-reaching benefits within any organization.
In many different ways, it has been a challenging year and people are facing internal and external hurdles that could not have been predicted a year ago. Contributing to a project is a wonderful growth opportunity, gives people a chance to connect with their teammates towards a common goal, and produces tangible results. However, it is more important than ever for leaders to show that they care about their team.
Deeply considering the outcome of new or restarted work on employees and consumers has never been more important. Prioritizing the work ahead should consider not only the immediate benefit to the organization itself but also the benefits of doing right by the people of the organization in the long term.
At The Gunter Group, we can help implement the project leadership and process improvement strategies discussed above. Contact us to learn more about how we can support and optimize your organization.
About the Author:
Kara is a collaborative and detail-oriented consultant specializing in project management, organizational change and strategic communications. She has an ability to jump quickly into complex situations and scenarios, which allows her to understand and deliver on her clients’ key priorities within tight deadlines. Kara is also very skilled at considering issues with a fresh perspective, allowing her to suggest and implement viable solutions that may not have been previously considered by an organization. With a diverse background in communications, marketing analytics, team leadership and project management, Kara has enjoyed bringing strategic solutions to her clients for over 10 years. She has worked in a wide range of industries for many nationally-recognized brands, primarily in the technology, healthcare, sportswear, and early childhood education sectors. Kara holds a B.S in Business Administration and Marketing from Central Washington University. She is also a Certified Scrum Master and PROSCI Certified Change Practitioner. In her free time, Kara enjoys spending time in the great outdoors with her family of four.
TGG FACILITATED APPLIED AGILE PANEL DISCUSSION
A few weeks ago, The Gunter Group facilitated a panel discussion at one of our clients (a global footwear and apparel company), which focused on Agile methodology application within their organization.
We would like to share a few key topics from the discussion.
1 — Implementing an Admin Week for Scrum Team Efficiency
One panel participant shared the story of her team iterating on ways to improve development velocity. They were having the common issue of missing sprint target dates and discussed the problem during a retrospective. Together, the team realized that between meeting schedules and “shoulder taps” for side work, they just didn’t have enough focused development time.
Initially the team implemented a block of time from morning until 1pm for dedicated development. While that did increase velocity, they still weren’t where they wanted to be.
Finally, they landed on a concept to implement an “Admin Week”. They decreased their sprints from 3 weeks to 2 and added in 1 week for admin time. This gave the team 2 weeks of uninterrupted development and 1 week to sprinkle in all of their administrative work such as meetings, ceremonies, idea brainstorming, internal documentation, mentoring, and training.
This shift resulted in a 36% increase in velocity and 36% decrease in duration of stories from “ready” to “complete”.
2 — Mitigating Discomfort Around Uncertainty
Another panel participant, an Agile Coach within our client’s organization, shared his thoughts around building comfort with uncertainty.
With the timely example of COVID-19’s highly impactful effects on businesses’ roadmaps, we discussed how important it is–now more than ever–to strengthen the ability to navigate uncertainty, with an agile mindset.
Participants agreed that we are seeing executives embrace agile thinking in their ability to pivot quickly and react as efficiently as possible. Work is being prioritized more clearly and decisions are being made at the “last responsible moment.”
3 — Servant Leadership in an Agile Framework
Lastly, our third panel speaker shared his perspective on leading in a Scrum Master role with a servant leadership approach.
This perspective emphasized the importance of maintaining a people focus in agile environments. Rather than just focusing on scope, schedule, budget–the servant leadership approach enables and promotes leadership in others.
He shared his experience about working with Scrum teams in this manner and how it has built relationships, garnered trust, and fostered growth within the team.
It also sets up the team for a safe environment during sprint retrospectives so that they are able to share thoughts and feedback more openly and from a place of assuming positive intent.
At The Gunter Group, we thrive on helping our clients by facilitating conversations such as this one and invite you to reach out if you are interested in TGG hosting something similar within your organization. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more.
To those who attended the panel discussion outlined above, thank you so much for your participation and we look forward to seeing you at the next one on June 24th!
5 TRAITS TO LOOK FOR WHEN RESOURCING CRITICAL, QUICK TURN PROJECTS
Hiring the right people takes time, the right questions, and a healthy dose of curiosity. What are the most important traits to move critical work forward? How about if you don’t have the luxury of time? And what if the need is short term in nature?
If this sounds familiar, then you may have a critical, quick turn project.
Recently, The Gunter Group worked with a regional healthcare insurance company on the roles necessary to help the company contend with business impacts of the coronavirus.
While the origin of our current collective disruption is uncommon (a pandemic), the business need for resourcing quick turn projects is familiar.
Whether you’re faced with a crisis now, or looking to be prepared for the future, check out these 5 traits that keep organizations moving forward in critical, quick turn projects.
1. Work Horizontally & Vertically. Disruption knows no boundaries. Leaders who can bridge communication gaps both horizontally and vertically within an organization will break down barriers and drive focus. Consider a generalist who can bring a holistic perspective.
2. Ramp Up Quickly: Uncertainty creates a vortex of need. Seek people who love learning. People accustomed to diving into new disciplines are skilled at the process of learning and can move from beginner to expert (or close to it!) at a rapid pace.
3. Navigate Ambiguity. Projects that surface quickly are usually highly ambiguous. Seek people who are energized by the unknown. They have confidence from years of working in uncharted territory to know that they are capable of figuring things out.
4. Embrace Your Culture: Your culture is the key to “how things get done around here” and when time is limited, it is important to have someone who can adapt quickly. Whether considering internal or external support, ensure they have chameleon-like qualities to reflect your company and departmental norms.
5. Tailored Solutions. Solutions need to make sense for your company and situation. Prioritize tailored approaches over cookie cutter solutions.
To illustrate, let’s return to the regional healthcare insurance company’s situation.
As a result of COVID-19, a high volume of government mandates had major impacts throughout the organization. To respond, a centralized task force was organized to assess impact, disseminate information, and ensure timely resolution. For efficiency, the task force formed a hub and spoke model assigning each business area a single point of contact to interface with the task force.
Due to urgency, short-term nature of work, and lack of internal resources, priority was given to onboarding a consultant who could roll up her sleeves and be successful in an ambiguous, urgent, and ever-changing environment as an interface between their task force and critical business functions.
Critical, quick turn projects are a constant as organizations frequently experience disruption whether by instigating or reacting to circumstances. A strong project leader with these 5 traits will help teams navigate uncertainty while achieving desired outcomes. Check out these client outcomes to see how we successfully partner with our clients to help them navigate challenges and drive toward solutions.
TGG STORY PUBLISHED IN OREGON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
After being named the #4 Best Company to Work For in Oregon (medium business category), Oregon Business connected with us to publish an article highlighting The Gunter Group’s story.
We were excited to share our holistic, Non-Negotiables approach to client delivery with Oregon Business and to be highlighted in their magazine alongside the other 2020 winners on the ‘100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon’ list. Congratulations to all these awesome organizations! Read the full story at OregonBusiness.Com to learn more.