Agile Methodology & How Consultants Can Use It

By Nicolas Gaillat

Among those who ventured on the path towards implementing an agile way of working, many reap the expected benefits. However, while many have succeeded, other organizations have failed. There is often a view that companies culturally and operationally entrenched with traditional management methodologies have the most challenges in implementing Agile.

Knowing that, it is understood that a shift in mentality is required across all layers of an organization in order to embrace Agile. For example, it is critical senior leadership embraces different ways of working that enable and support the Agile framework. This often involves taking a different approach to planning, project management, and team structure. Rather than sticking with traditional methods, successful organizations instead empower individuals and squads to take ownership of their activities and commit to completing tasks within specific Agile timeframes, the famous “sprints”.

Operationally, the implementation of Agile means redefining roles, applying new skillsets, making team structural changes, changing project tracking, and a very important shifting of responsibilities. No longer does a project manager beat the drums of a rowing galley and keep people accountable. Instead, the product manager sets the course of the boat whilst Agile team members take accountability to be on course, tend to the sails, and do what’s needed to keep the boat sailing and ultimately get to the desired destination.

The Problem with Embracing Agile

To achieve the above, a cultural change is required. But changing culture is difficult, and it takes time and effort. Often a cultural shift is best achieved with lots of communications and positive change management. Unfortunately, this is not seen as a top priority by budget owners or executives. For example, redefining roles raise HR challenges, sometimes requiring consultation and the management of staff churn.

Tooling to support new ways of working will require investment at scale, meaning it will impact all areas of the organization. Expecting all this to happen without managing and leading the change is a recipe for failure for all organizations, regardless of size. Transitioning to an agile mindset cannot happen without providing training to all levels of the organization in order to support the above.

Considerations for Agile

With these points, it is important to remember that taking the plunge into Agile does not need to be all encompassing right away. When it comes to trialling or testing, it’s usually a good idea to select parts of the business – a program or a project – that may be best suited for Agile. If organizations are not ready to invest or to fully commit to Agile, it does not mean they cannot benefit from some of the key staples of Agile methodology. Agile or Scaled Agile frameworks can be seen as complex – however, they can be simplified in bitesize chunks to establish a proof of concept.

Applicability for Consulting

Tangibly, two elements of Agile should be considered to establish a proto-Agile way of working and determine if Agile is relevant for an organization. Think of it like a pilot or a delivery management analogy. These Agile features (pun intended for the Agile aware) are an excellent duo for establishing and demonstrating the Agile mindset but also useful for consulting assignments regardless of scale or timeframe.

Backlog of Things to Do

In its simplest form, a backlog is a list of tasks, deliverables, or even a shopping list. The backlog is a living, evolving entity that requires frequent review. Backlog items get added, changed, and even removed. If needed, it is possible to maintain several backlogs especially when there are different stakeholders making decisions.

It all depends on the level of detail required and the people involved in getting things done. As availability of information directly improves accuracy, giving the task a value, breaking down the task, identifying dependencies, and assessing risks and opportunities will enhance handling and help manage backlog items.

The backlog really provides value when it is frequently reviewed and its elements’ priority are updated as required in a consistent manner. When it depicts an accurate view of the tasks at hand within the context of the other backlog items, a backlog brings the idea of agility to life. This is also critical for the efficiency of prioritization.

Framework of Prioritization Processes for the Backlog

The best way to achieve consistency is to define a reference for prioritization. This could be based on the value of the task, the level of risks associated with not completing the task, availability of dependencies, and so on. Prioritization becomes even better if many factors are used at the same time in a compounded manner (but this could be its own blog topic).

For reference, Scaled Agile or SAFe provides (among other things) a systemic way of suggesting priorities with its “weighted shortest job first” scoring of tasks based on a set of criteria. This is an extreme example of prioritization criteria. As long as a relevant set of criteria is defined and agreed, a business or an individual will benefit from applying the chosen model consistently. Examples of criteria can be time to completion, dependencies, risks severity, etc.

Wrap Up

The backlog and prioritization elements do not need to be limited to projects and/or organizations. In fact, they can be used by all in everyday life. Taking a different spin on smart choice (H. Raiffa), being able to prioritize from the list of things we ought to do is an excellent way of fostering efficient decision making.

How Cartesian Can Help

Cartesian management consulting can assist your organization at various stages of Agile framework management, from feasibility assessment and framework design to running key roles defined within the Agile methodology for both Agile and Scaled Agile ways of working. Please contact us, share your problem statement, and find out how Cartesian’s expertise can help.