Guide To Agile Working & Why Agility Really Matters

The Need For Agile Working

The need for agile working needs to be considered from two perspectives, the organizations and the employee. Here we will take a look at those perspectives and unpack what agile working is and isn’t, the benefits it offers stakeholders and how you can begin to approach working in an agile way.

From an organization’s perspective the world is changing fast and getting faster. Organizations need to become more efficient and responsive to what is going on around them. Adapting, learning and innovating faster than ever before. Achieving this means having highly motivated and productive teams which when faced with ambitious stretch goals will have the ability to communicate, learn and innovate effectively.

From an employee’s perspective there are constant demands for time. Most employees would describe the amount that needs to get done, and the amount of time they have available as not being the same. This leads to a feeling of not making a dent in what needs to be done, or even knowing whether what we did actually made a difference.

Working in an agile way is about getting what needs to be done, done well and on-time, because the work you are doing is well planned, prioritised, and there are not too many jobs or tasks being done at the same time, which means work gets finished before new work is started.

Agility is not team specific. It’s a way of planning and executing work, and learning. Agile is all about helping teams achieve their goals. Whether those goals are to produce great software or produce amazing marketing that helps sales, the same ways of working, communicating and delivering apply.

What is Agile Working?

Agile working means teams are goal driven with time and efforts are directed towards measurable outcomes that align with company and team priorities – often these are OKRs.

Adopting an agile working approach centres on several elements that govern the way you work. These include:

Empowerment: Agile teams are trusted and empowered to find the best way of achieving goals and tasks. They are also often given the ability to work when and where they find most suitable and conducive to achieving what is required.

Place: It’s clear that agile teams don’t need to be in the same place to work effectively. In fact, the idea that for agile teams “work is an activity, not a place” is central. That said, if teams have the luxury of being one one place, having a place where teams can work together, have discussion, visualise works and build stone relationship bonds will help.

Tools: Agile working makes the most of software tools available. The jobs these tools need to do is help keep everyone aligned and on the same-page through better processes, communications and system thinking. The result of all agile facilitation tools, including ZOKRI is to increase alignment and productivity, reduce unnecessary meetings whilst improving planned discussions.

Further agile working pillars are also outlined in the various agile manifestos out there. Common themes are:

  • Be customer driven and strive for continuous improvement
  • Break work into small units of work, in engineering this are called sprints, and focus on their delivery, and during this work do not be afraid to learn and make course corrections as you go
  • Dedicate people to teams and work on one project at a time
  • Continuously learn through experimentation
  • Have complete transparency of goals, plans, priorities, progress, and problems

There are lots of ways of working that are often very different to those used by agile teams. But at the core work is work, and agile is another way of doing the same work, but with greater focus and efficiency, and with less team stress.

However, if you’re not working in an agile way, you will be changing and change requires knowledge, commitment and reinforcement.

Agile Working vs Flexible Working

Doing the same work when and where you want is not the same as working in an agile way. As you will see from this resource, agile working is about ‘how’ you work. With specific ways of communicating, prioritising, working and learning being adopted.

For this reason agile working should not be confused with flexible working practices like: hybrid working, hot desking, mobile working and others. These are about ‘where’ not how you are working.

‘When’ you work is also not what agile working is about as well, although agile teams often display flexible practices. If teams need to communicate in daily stand-ups, and weekly planning meetings for example, there is no flexibility, to contribute you need to be present, whether on a video call or in person.

Does agile working work?

In a 2010 study in the Journal of Operations Management, agile methodologies were found to contribute to operational performance which in turn contributed to marketing and financial performance of the organization.

Perhaps the most startling, but unsurprising statistic if you’ve worked in agile teams, comes from research across 160,000 projects and 50,000 agile teams. Here it was found that when team members were 95% dedicated to an agile team, their productivity doubled.

Agile is an opportunity for everyone
to do their best work

Who wants to feel like they only have the time and opportunity to do average work? This is sadly the state of the modern workplace for many. Working in an agile way is therefore more than a framework for planning, discussing and responding to change. It is a framework for getting everything that we want and need to get done without breaking ourselves trying, and delivering our ‘best’ work?

To support this, research found that 88% of over 2,000 respondents in 91 countries and 27 industries reported agile working through its ability to get clarity of priorities improves the quality of life.

Employees generally want to contribute and make an impact with the time they have available and still have time for life. Yet as Parkinson’s Law rightly observes, work expands to fill the time we have available.

A full-time employee can’t and probably should not magic more of it up more than the 1,700 hours they are typically contracted to in a year.. Extending days and working weekends is not the answer and is also not how you’re going to retain and develop valuable employees and amazing talent.

Make the invisible or opaque, clear

Do you know what your colleagues’ priorities for the coming week are? Perhaps you have an idea if they are in your team. What about in other teams you are supporting or collaborating with?

For lots of individuals, both their own priorities as well as their own teams are invisible. There is no workboard where they can be seen, and discussed. And when we can’t see our work or that of others, we are blind to priorities, problems, challenges of capacity and even wins.

So agile ways of working are about supporting a reduction in individual and team load, normalising expectations of those around us, promoting focus on goal outcomes and, and positioning daily and weekly work in context, exposing problems. This allows for teams to create solutions in real-time, and develop a path to their best work being done with the least amount of time.

Healthy work habits drive success

Agile working is a means of addressing the productivity vs effectiveness problem. Everyone is busy, but not everything that needs to be achieved is being completed well and on-time.

Agile working is about creating a cycle of healthy, sustainable and effective work behaviours and habits that touch on every aspect of everyone’s working lives. How and when we plan, how we align our days and weeks work, when and how we communicate in teams, and how we expose and resolve issues, to name but a few areas.

Agile system thinking works

Agile is a system of seeing, thinking, and doing. A work-based system that allows us to use the time we have available in the most impactful way possible.

The key to this is having a common place to visualise your work, take on and collaborate on what really matters and will make a difference.

The ability to see and discuss priorities in and across teams, syncing with existing project software where required, and aligning with goals / OKRs is an example of agile systems thinking in action with ZOKRI’s software. If you’re committed to agile working you should look to centralise and systemise it with ZOKRI.

If you agile system thinking has been implemented successfully the outcomes you’d expect are:

  • A reduction in meetings in your calendar
  • More time to focus more on doing what needs to get done.
  • A reduction in interruptions – ‘have you got 5 minutes?’
  • Consistent on-time project delivery and goal achievement

Fewer active priorities stop overload
and increase output

If you’re going to work in an agile way you will need both goal systems and a way of allowing employees to focus on priorities long-enough to finish them well before moving on.

Which is where systems like defining and making cards / tasks / to-dos / initiatives visible and managing them with systems like Kanban come in. You do what is going to have the greatest impact on your goal before moving to the next unit of work.

If you and teams get a level of mastery of agile working through system support, delays in value being delivered will be reduced, there will be increases in efficiency and productivity, and ultimately a reduction in costs.

So to be clear, agile working is not about working harder, longer and smarter, it’s about valuing and protecting time and focusing on what really matters. The goals that matter most and the work that will progress them.