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Implementing agile - are you Mourinho, Wenger or Guardiola? 

When implementing agile principles and methods there are several questions that must be considered...


When implementing agile principles and methods there are several questions that must be considered to guide you with decision making.

Main points

  • Applying agile to teams – what is your ambition and how mature are your team members and organisation?
  • Agile, scrum, kanban, extreme programming (XP), SAFe, Lean – what’s right for you?
  • Adapt

Many organisations can take a significant amount of time and money in deciding how and when to adopt agile practices. Agile as a concept isn’t new anymore. Much of the decision making now is how to scale and develop a long-term vision that aligns with your customer needs, whilst considering the delivery risk to you in the short term.

Given some of the very recent media attention, I started to think about how this could apply to football in terms of the tactical principles and vision you have for your teams. I think there are many similarities between some of the decisions a football team has to make and setting up your agile teams to be successful over the long term.

Based on the maturity, confidence and capability of your football teams, you’ll apply a certain set-up to get the best results whilst limiting risk. On taking on a new team, Jose Mourinho will be effective in creating a structure and discipline to strive for quick results but whose method can be abrasive. Arsene Wenger puts complete confidence in the team to self-organise having faith that the senior members can coach and influence the less experienced players, only intervening when necessary. Pep Guardiola would promote the skill, versatility and creativity that many would aspire to including innovation that many wouldn’t have believed feasible based on traditional constraints. 

All of this thought process applies to project delivery and deciding how you’re going to set up your agile organisation. How mature is your current team with working in a certain way and how open are they to adopting a new philosophy? How quickly do you need results in project delivery? What is your ultimate vision for the way you want your organisation to work? Asking some of these basic questions will guide decisions on how you implement your agile principles and the method you’re going to use – be it Lean, Scrum, Kanban, SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) or something bespoke which is suited to your organisation.

Some of these methods provide a highly disciplined structure and governance like SAFe whilst others such as Kanban will be much more fluid – I always like to find something based on a method but more bespoke to the specific organisation and its goals. I believe it’s key to avoid picking an agile method ‘off the shelf’ because it feels relevant and forward thinking without doing the due diligence on whether it will align with your vision, people and culture. 

Some factors to consider which have similarities in sport and agile implementation:

  • Business/technology alignment – to be successful, your whole team must understand the vision for your shared success and be working together effectively across the inputs and outputs.
  • Understand your people and team dynamic – a high performing team who are used to differing ways of working may embrace new ideas more quickly.
  • Start small – I wouldn’t advise implementing complex agile processes on your biggest and most important project – start small, test it out and then decide if you have the capability to scale this up.
  • Slow down to speed up – if results aren’t what you want, keep the faith and slow down the pace that you’re implementing new ideas, it’ll pay dividends and won’t burn your team out.
  • Scale-up quickly – once you’re feeling confident and have the right set up to achieve consistency in performance, go for it! Delaying will lose some of the energy in the initiatives but be clear and transparent about your ambitions.
  • Automate – look at any opportunities to automate your agile processes, let your people/team be creative in value-add areas of the project/pitch. So, look at anything repeatable such as your release management and QA process and get them automated.

So, which approach is right for you and your organisation? Do you need some of the early discipline that Jose Mourinho can provide to try to achieve some quick wins? There’s a risk here, your teams may ultimately become less interested as creativity is stifled and the risk of failure increases. However, the utopia of an effective, creative, cross-functional scrum team can take time to implement and requires patience. So, to be successful, create a team that has the right level of experience, structure and creativity to meet your own and the team’s goals, paired with continuous improvement and innovative culture to stay ahead of the competition. 

If you’d like to talk more about your agile implementation and how to scale appropriately, get in touch

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