4 focus areas to develop a truly collaborative agile culture

4 focus areas to develop a truly collaborative agile culture

According to the Project Management Institute, ineffective communication leads to project failure one third of the time and compromises the project’s budget half the time.

I always go by this mantra: people deliver projects not processes and tools.

In order to emphasize the importance of the people aspect of a project PRINCE2 Agile™ includes specific guidance on how to tailor PRINCE2® to work in an agile context by introducing the “5 Agile Behaviours”:

Carl GriceTransparency, Collaboration, Rich Communication, Self-organization, Exploration

From looking at the various agile frameworks, AXELOS has selected a fair representation of the core agile principles and behaviours that will encourage practitioners to change their attitude, values and approaches in a way that empowers people. The aim is to take the agile viewpoint of fast feedback and incorporating more openness, communication, trust and team working than seen in traditional project management styles.

Such behaviours are likely familiar to those who have or who are looking to undertake a transition towards agile yet more often than not these words are easy to comprehend but much harder to put into practice. The words themselves won’t achieve any meaningful results, particularly for organizations and teams that are coming from a more “traditional” command and control background or have a technical bias, but by embracing them and applying them to projects practitioners will see a true difference.

Investing in people

When adopting PRINCE2 Agile, where are you most likely to make the most significant investment? In a new tool, such as a digital Kanban board, or in soft skills development such as workshop facilitation training?

Generally speaking if more technically-driven people are involved in the move towards agile, from the bottom up, they will have a strong bias towards technology, processes and tools and the investment will go there first. Soft skills tend not to be invested in but this needs to change in order to get the people to accept the changes being implemented.  Bringing agile into a traditional workplace needs people, collaboration and a changing culture; it’s not about just reading the manual or looking at the tools.

More technically-driven people tend to communicate via email, even when a situation calls for a face-to-face approach, or even just picking up the phone. Sometimes tools and processes get in the way and this can hold back change more than many realize. Even at an academic level, there’s more of a focus on tools than on the soft skills required to implement them.

Developing a collaborative agile culture

So how can practitioners build upon their soft skills to develop a collaborative ‘agile’ culture?

1. Understand the team composition

The key to this is remembering one important fact: not all people are the same! We all come from different backgrounds; we have had different education and experiences, in life and in project management. People have different levels of expertise and use different language and terminology. Practitioners will be influenced by different things, have varying levels of confidence and ambition and, fundamentally, we all have different personalities.

2. Identify the barriers to change

With change comes resistance but the reasons for it vary. Some will fear for their positions, or are concerned their knowledge and skills are redundant or insufficient and if unhappiness still prevails after a change is implemented, people will revert back to their previous behaviours and processes. It’s important to identify where the resistance to change lies in order to ensure the changes remain and that the whole team is on board.

3. Create a collaborative, user-focused environment

In order to do this you need to “shake-up” the team dynamics and the working norms; consciously create opportunities for collaboration as many may need some help getting started:

  • Change the working environment: change the office layout, provide facilities to hold workshops and consider “break-out” areas for more informal discussions.
  • Increase exposure to end-users: enable and encourage the team to have direct communication with the end-user – a site visit, call, or email – hold cross-function and end-user walk-throughs to give the team a different perspective and provide industry relevant training.
  • Allow people to work together: pair programming and peer testing
  • Allow time for knowledge transfer: organize workshops and online demos and reward this
  • Promote continuous improvement: the team should feel it’s OK to fail as long as they keep trying and learn from past experiences
  • Identify agile champions across the organization: coach and promote agile behaviours and standardize the core terminology
  • Train and keep training soft skills: use workshops, visual thinking, whiteboards and team working

4. Integrate continuous monitoring and feedback

Practitioners should ensure regular project reviews, or retrospectives, are built into the plan with a specific review of collaboration, team work and agile behaviours. To help with this PRINCE2 Agile has a very simple but powerful tool, the Behaviour Dashboard, which uses a traffic light system that defines which behaviours are in need of attention in the teams:

  • Red – Trigger an exception – jeopardizing the project
  • Amber – Needs attention as it will be causing some damage to the project
  • Green – These still need to be monitored on a regular basis

By following these four steps practitioners will benefit from faster feedback, better communication and faster decision making among self-organizing teams. It allows for more informed prioritization at all levels of the organizations and higher quality products are developed due to a better understanding of the end-user and problems they may have.

Collaboration breeds increased ownership of a project and accountability as people become more receptive and responsive to change and as a result better outcomes are achieved.

Remember: people deliver projects not processes and tools.

See our PRINCE2 Agile™ and PRINCE2® for more information.

What are your experiences of working in an agile environment when managing projects? Do you agree that collaboration is key to successful project management? Are there other areas that you think Project Managers and teams should focus on? Please share your thoughts about this blog in the comments box below.

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Comments

7 Oct 2018 Andrew Loh
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I often feel like part of the role is to be a counselor and life coach to some people, however definitely agree on fostering that environment of learning (over fear of failure).
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