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  • Writer's pictureCraig Risi

Thinking Agile

It’s inevitable that a certain amount of bureaucracy is required in business. There may be companies out there that promise a flat structure and a truly agile work process, but unless they’re really small they are either lying or about to fall apart. The truth is we need structure and process in business and in software development to keep things together. Which is why I often find moves in the software development world to move away from documentation and process amusing, because it’s inevitable that they will need to establish some process to make their system work.

However, while the dream of a process free development cycle is perhaps destined to be a work in fiction, the mindset to become more agile is a noble and plausible one. The move towards agility came from the oft tedious development cycles companies found themselves in and wanting to free themselves up from the constraints of a Waterfall or V-Model, founded a 'leaner' methodology instead. These days, to stay fresh and responsive to customer demands companies are looking to release production ready code on an almost daily basis and this is leading to even more emphasis on companies trying to go as Agile and lean as possible.

To make any production release work you need a fair amount of quality control and audit trail to be effective. However, the mistake companies make in going towards an Agile direction is thinking that Agile remains exclusively around their software development methodology. The real spirit of Agile though comes in questions everything you do as a business. Not just in your development cycle, but in your other bureaucratic areas such as meetings, unnecessary employee documentation and tracking and often even your organizational structure. Agile is about question everything you do as a business and finding the most optimal balance for getting things done versus employee engagement.

I mention employee engagement because, in the quest for efficiencies, employee satisfaction should never be compromised. Some meetings and activities may seem inefficient, but if they keep your team happy, they are worth it. There is still a lot of waste that can be removed, especially for bigger companies. While there are many areas where time can be better utilized. Two key areas where I find companies can maximize their agility is in meetings and employee development.

Minimize your number of meetings

While you cannot erase the need for meetings, you can often look at how you are conducting them and who is needed in them. Meetings can often end up becoming laborious discussions with far too many people that never reach a set conclusion. Yes, often this discussion is necessary, but if you ensure each meeting has a clear set of instructions and responsibilities for each of its attendees, it often helps to provide more focus and purpose to meetings. I have seen companies do this and even realize that they never needed the meeting in the first place, because putting a plan to what they needed to establish helped them realize it could get done without a meeting.

Similarly, we often set up meetings to cover up poor communication in other areas. Making better use of IM or face-to-face chats where possible can help reduce this. It’s also worth asking if you need as many people as you do in a meeting or if one or two representatives cannot compile information from their colleagues and represent them in a meeting. You can free up a lot of time in this regard and also lead to a happier team who doesn’t need to sit in unnecessary meetings.

The only meetings I would suggest never looking to minimize are recruitment interviews and employee 1-on-1s. In fact, I would argue many companies don’t spend enough on these.

So, if you feel like your company has too many meetings that are possibly pulling your engineers away from the work they enjoy or managers away from their people, take a look at what meetings you really need and what you can do away with.

Simplify Employee Development

An unexpected hiccup and time waster for many companies is in employee development. I’m not talking about training time, which is actually encouraged, but more within the different hurdles that employees need to jump through to progress in their career. Effort should be made to ensure your roles and their different levels are well laid out that it is clear for people to know what they need to do to progress in their career.

It’s too easy for companies to create unnecessary and unexpected hurdles at their staff by creating these long processes that are designed to ensure fairness and equity, but often leave their staff frustrated in the long term. This can be caused by too much ambiguity, too much paperwork or too long of an approval process.

You might think this shouldn’t have much effect on your business, but an employee’s career progression is one of the most important things that they focus on and if you remove the amount of time they spend on this and give them great ownership of their careers, they are inclined to work more efficiently, while being happier in the process.

I’ll discuss some more areas for agile thinking in my next blog. For now, though I want to encourage you to keep thinking out the box as you look to make your organization more agile and think beyond your development processes and look at something a whole lot wider.



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