Mastering the art of agile starting with 4 key values

Many companies use or are planning to use an agile approach. Others see agile as just another management buzzword. The actual meaning of agile is often confused with related concepts such as Scrum and DevOps. In this blog, I will dive into how we perceive agile at Itility and how it is embedded in our DNA.

Agile is a mindset

In its essence, agile is a mindset; a profound belief that is based on four key values:

  • A working product is more important than comprehensive documentation
  • People and their interactions are more important than extensive processes and tools
  • Collaboration with your customer is more important than negotiation with your customer
  • Responding to change is more important than just following a plan

This mindset is the core of agile, it is not a project management methodology. This means that it can be (or rather, should be) a fundamental component of the identity of both an organization and the people that work in it. This translates to many aspects of the organization, ranging from strategic decision-making to personal drivers. Although it certainly affects project team structure, it goes well beyond that.

Agile vs organizational inertia

Not surprisingly, teams can be organized in such a way that they are not agile. An example that most will recognize is that “old” organizations are not always fit to respond to change, displaying so-called organizational inertia. This inertia is partially caused by the processes and structures that have been brought in place to do things that made the company sustain in the past.

However, organizational inertia is also influenced by the mindset of the company’s employees. Some organizations do change their structures and processes but do not flick the switch to an agile mindset. Even scrum teams do not always adhere to or apply the agile mindset.

Also, agile is not bound to a specific type of process, structure or project management methodology. No matter if you run a Waterfall project, a scrum project or a service team, you can always strive for a certain level of agility of your team. It would be a misconception to think that Waterfall projects can not be agile at all. As long as you have a team with an agile mindset whose actions are in line with the agile values, you can deliver value through agility.

How we apply the agile values in practice

So much for theory. At Itility, the agile mindset is deeply embedded in our culture. For us, the agile mindset comes as natural as that first cup of coffee (or tea) in the morning. Let’s dive into the four agile values, why they are important, and how we live by them at Itility.

A working product over extensive documentation
Having little documentation in place for a product can decrease its value. Having a lot of documentation in place for a product that does not hold any value is completely useless. Having a lean set of documentation in place for a working product gives the most value.

For example, if I buy a TV at the hardware store, I want to make sure that it functions properly. I am mostly interested in being able to watch Ajax’ football matches in the weekend and having a pleasant experience while doing so. However, if I do not get a manual with that TV when buying it, and no documentation about the TV can be found anywhere online, that would make me feel uncanny. I would still like to know what to do and who to call when an error shows up on my screen. However, having a working product and a pleasant user experience would still be of paramount importance.

At Itility, we understand the importance of a working product over extensive documentation. Running multiple projects and service teams, we keep challenging each other on delivering maximum value for our customers. And documentation does play a part in this – but we aim to keep our documentation as light as possible, by focusing on providing only the information that matters.

We apply this rule to any documentation: our presentations, project reports, technical (building block) designs and even our meeting minutes. By keeping our documentation lean and mean, we deliver the highest value for our customers. And of course, in the event of change, we are able to update our documents fast and with minimal effort.

People and Interactions over Processes and Tools
An organization without processes and tools can result in utter chaos. If employees continuously have to reinvent business processes, they are not likely to be efficient. And how will you capture customer demand if your customers have no clue on how to reach out to you? But whereas processes and tools are important, we think that people matter more.

In general, we indeed believe that people and interactions are more valuable than tools and processes. This value comes back in multiple ways:

  • Just as we strive for light documentation, we strive for light processes. This helps us foster an action-oriented culture within Itility.
  • A horizontal (flat) organizational structure, in which we maintain short communication lines to management. This enables us to act fast when required.
  • We believe in collaboration on the work floor of our customers over just providing another tool, dashboard or API. This is the result of a belief that a person can determine the added value of his or her service, whereas a tool cannot determine its own effectiveness.

So, whereas processes and tools are useful, we believe that our people make the difference.

Customer collaboration over customer negotiation
If you never negotiate with your customer, you will never set a scope for your project or product release. Teams that do not negotiate will therefore face shifting priorities. These teams generally lose focus, fail to live up to stakeholder expectations, and become demotivated. An unhappy team, an unhappy customer. Nobody wins.

Collaboration goes beyond negotiation. It is all about engaging the customer in your development or delivery process. One example is that we strive to start delivering value as soon as possible. Hypothetically speaking, customer X wants to migrate ~300 applications to the cloud. Instead of having an endless negotiation about the scope of the project, we would propose to already migrate 1 or 2 applications to the cloud for that customer. We would take the customer along in our migration process and show how we get things done. This is not just a hypothetical exercise, this is something we have done often before.

Responding to change over keeping to a plan
This value can be misinterpreted easily. It is not saying that you should not stick to a plan. A company or project without a plan is doomed to spin out of control. For us, as a consultancy company, living up to our promises is key. One of our motto’s is actually to “deliver as promised” and we keep challenging each other on this in order to live up to these expectations.

Yet we always realize that things happen, and plans need to be updated accordingly. Sticking to a plan “just because it is the plan” will not always get the optimal result you want. Within Itility, we have short lines throughout the organization. These lines help us act fast if anything goes awry. In fact, being able to quickly adapt to the situation is one of the reasons why we are able to “deliver as promised” successfully.

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