‘Agile’ is one of those words that everyone interprets differently. When it comes to dealing with change, speed and focusing on the essentials. What works in software development can be right for a corporate context too. Here is a field report.
A personal to-do list of 50 items, 30 of which take top priority. Unless there’s a crisis dictating what’s really important, a list like that is more likely to have us paralysed with indecision than to provide us with a guide on what to do and when. So, how can we mitigate the impact that a list like this has on an organisation’s action plan?
Agile projects have introduced us to a variety of techniques designed to defuse or avoid such situations. Concentrating on fewer tasks at any given time, tackling smaller tasks and prioritising them according to their anticipated value – these are just a few of the tools in every agile project coach’s repertoire. Can these tools be applied to a company’s tasks too? SWITCH has had positive experience with what are known as ‘strategic initiatives’ for the last year or so.
The process itself is relatively simple: every three months, employees can submit suggestions for a strategic initiative. Not only do we consider the objective of such an initiative and implementation of the plan; we also look at the measurable benefit for SWITCH – and the measurement methodology.
The initiators give a brief presentation of their initiatives to the Management Board (MB), which then offers advice, selects one or two of them for implementation and allocates the necessary resources. Initiatives that are not chosen fall by the wayside. There are lots of exciting and valuable ideas, but not all of them can be added to the list. All too soon, we’d be right back where we started: with an endlessly long to-do list.
Over the ensuing three months, the team works on the implementation process. The initiatives we have developed to date all had one thing in common: the tasks involved extended across many areas, so we got a chance to actively practice cross-team collaboration. Every 14 days, the team presents its progress in a five-minute update to the MB, and the results are submitted at the end of the three months. The MB and the project team decide what action to take next. Then the cycle starts all over again.
One of the key elements of this process is the measurability of the benefits generated. The process is designed so that an initiative can be stopped at any time. But this isn’t a failure, not by any means. It’s a positive. If it becomes apparent that the expected results won’t be achieved, it is better for the company to stop immediately rather than tying up resources with a fruitless plan.
Sometimes, you need to up the pace even more. As a response to the coronavirus crisis, a small, interdisciplinary team implemented an initial version of a video conferencing solution for the universities within just a few days. Without processes, without a to-do list, but with a sense of the urgency of the situation and an eye for the absolute essentials. The rapid implementation of the switch.ch/meet service shows that SWITCH can respond very quickly to change. This active approach to change is ultimately the most important aspect an agile project planning process has to offer.