How an Agile Approach Can Benefit You and Your Team
Rachel Barnes, Head of Collaboration at Ashurst Advance delves into the agile approach asking, are you getting the benefits of an adaptive organisation? How is an agile approach benefiting you and your team? And are you leveraging an agile approach to continually adapt?
An agile approach to developing new solutions or ways of working is not new, however, it is also something that we are still not seeing being effectively utilised. Now more than ever, adaptability is crucial. Not only with the shock for many people of a transformation to their ways of working, but also with the looming economic impacts, embracing the situation and creating ways of swiftly testing and adapting new approaches will facilitate and, hopefully, lessen the impact.
To stay competitive and maintain relevance to our customers, be they internal or external, it is essential to be continually adapting to and developing new ways of working, new solutions to challenges and new means of delivering service. However a lot of people we speak to struggle to take the time out to step back from the day to day firefighting, let alone have time (or expertise) to identify challenges, and design and test solutions. In fact, something we are hearing is that leaders are under pressure to bring about transformation, but with little or no budget.
Nurturing an adaptive culture
An adaptive culture is important in supporting continual experimentation, learning and a feedback cycle. If you haven’t read the Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries – do! It isn’t just about the start-up/ scale-up community; it also applies, for example, to new departments being formed within established organisations or the transformation of current departments and teams. Leveraging this approach and creating the right environment for curiosity, experimentation, risk-taking, learning and, most importantly, feedback, with just the right amount of process, will support continuous, nimble and agile innovation and growth. Done well, it will also build mutual trust and empowerment. But, with the best intentions, this doesn’t happen without quite a bit of application and effort, as with any culture change initiative. If we are to embrace the opportunities that come out of the past few months and to design and effect the future normal, an agile and adaptive culture will support this.
To me, a means of creating an agile, iterative and adaptive environment is to break up your approach into short, sharp ‘sprints’. This could be 2 days or 2 weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the initiatives. The reason for this is to ensure communication and realignment with key stakeholders at very regular periods before the idea development has gone too far and taken up too much resource. It is important for the team to pause and check that what they are developing still looks like it’s going to solve the problem (and hasn’t gone off on an excitable tangent!), also that the key stakeholders to the project have an update and an opportunity to let the team know if a key variable has changed. The other benefit to working in this way is to catch something which is likely to fail early and to have the opportunity to learn from it and to redirect the work before too much investment has been made. This isn’t just used for designing and developing tech, its also for transforming or redesigning processes – it’s all about iteratively taking people on the journey with regular communication and check-ins.
Collaboration can be another way of driving change, not only collaboration internally through engagement with multi-disciplinary teams, but also with customers, vendors, tech companies, law firms, consultancies… depending on the challenge. A collaboration partner with the right (or different) skills and expertise can challenge, bring value to the initiative, inspiration to those involved and also support and guide working in an agile and iterative process.
From a culture change perspective, developing the skills and a level of comfort with testing, learning and failing fast can have an incredibly positive impact. Many people find testing something that is rough and ready really rather uncomfortable, especially if the testing is being done with customers! But it only has to be ‘good enough’ to test and get feedback and ‘good enough’ can be very sketchy. And let’s not start on the ambiguity of developing and testing something as you go along…and potentially failing…! However, no one is suggesting that this approach would touch the trusted partner status that lawyers enjoy with their customers. As well as finding different ways to solve problems, an agile and adaptive approach is about reflecting on the lessons learnt and moving on. Early testing encourages both lawyers and customers to be curious and explore and learn together. Also, if the idea is being co-developed, it is much more likely to be adopted as a result.
Additionally, and this may seem obvious, crucial to solving a challenge is to effectively scope it out before putting any thought to the solution. It’s amazing the number of times we have come across people ideating a wonderful solution, but which turns out not to solve the actual problem! There’s nothing more demoralising to the team involved when this happens. Having a diagnostic toolkit, such as the ‘five whys’ in the example below, and having trusted partners to experiment with is crucial.
To wrap up – scope out and deep dive into the real problem, create a multi-disciplinary team to design and test the solution, clearly define the approach, set regular (short term) check-in points to test, get feedback and discuss progress and ensure you don’t get too attached or committed to whatever is being tested, in case it needs pivoting or binning! And involve your customers, where possible!
One to add to your toolkit
If you’re interested in a quick diagnostic tool, the ‘five whys’ is an effective means of scoping out a challenge as well as for progress reviews. Effectively used, digging into the problem by asking ‘why’ five times, arrives at the real challenge, rather than what might have been a perceived one. More often than not, people enthusiastically start ideating on the perceived challenge without a deeper investigation or scoping into the real problem.
However, the ‘five whys’ is not as widely used to assess design or transformation progress. But digging into the early feedback on a transformation/redesign project using this tool can bottom out any issues before too much resource is invested in the solution, giving the team an opportunity to adapt and change the direction. Using the ‘five whys’ can be uncomfortable, as it can feel quite intrusive and people need to be prepared to face unpleasant truths! There needs to be a culture of acceptance and trust for it not to become the ‘five blames’!