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Agile working strategies in central government

Agile. The buzzword of the moment. But do you really know what it means? And if you do, is your definition the same as everyone else’s?

These are tricky questions and although the word agile is almost ubiquitous, there is still confusion about what it really is.

While flexible working is undoubtedly an important aspect of agility, it’s only the beginning of the story. Paul Allsopp from The Agile Organisation says that agility needs to be more multi-dimensional and not simply about working in the same way at a different time or place.

Instead he proposes a richer definition.

Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).

If you take this outlook, agile working is as much about changing the way you work as it is about flexibility of the time and place you work.

To return to Allsopp, this means the goal of agile working is:

…to create more responsive, efficient and effective organisations based on more balanced, motivated, innovative and productive teams and individuals – essential ingredients in surviving and thriving in the current economically challenged globalised world.

So how can you do this in central government? Allsopp argues that the main barriers to agile working are culture and mindset. New technology and workspaces are not sufficient to make it happen – you must also empower people.

This is an approach we have seen in action many times as government departments and other public sector bodies have adopted our cloud collaboration software, Kahootz. To demonstrate, we’ve cross referenced our experiences with the common features of agile projects identified in the Government Service Design Manual.

1. Understand your users

Kahootz is a powerful and cost-effective platform for working with, and getting to understand, your users. Because it costs little to invite any stakeholder to join a collaborative workspace – and it can be done in seconds – you can easily involve and consult with many more people than the ‘famous few’ you may normally deal with. This helps you not only understand your users better, but also widen your insight to include more viewpoints.

Many of the tools available within Kahootz can also be used to give you a better understanding of your stakeholders’ outlook and thinking through a variety of feedback mechanisms. These include questionnaires, discussion forums, online databases and comments made on workspace documents. By using these, you can collect, log, analyse and report on user needs, issues and risks. You can also discuss draft ideas, designs and specifications, allowing you to accurately prioritise stakeholder requirements and agree outline implementation plans.

2. Iterate often

By its nature, agile working requires speedy, frequent and well-managed team communications and response mechanisms. Kahootz makes this second nature to all users.

For example, you can create ‘to-do’ lists to set transparent priorities, agree release and revision schedules and use simple online database forms to log lessons learned by all stakeholders as the project progresses. Forums and quick polls allow you to discuss and survey user experiences and you can also create templates to produce regular management reports that highlight progress against targets, enhancement requests, risks and issues.

3. Small, agile teams

Small, responsive and purposeful teams are a hallmark of agile working. Kahootz is ideal for segmenting stakeholders into small teams as you can use individual online workspaces and custom team roles (such as service manager or delivery manager) to collaborate with small numbers of people – and then to consult more widely to develop user stories and refine drafts, ideas, options and development plans.

Kahootz’s access controls ensure that content creation and review rights are assigned only to those who need them, empowering team members to focus their resources and apply them accurately to the needs of the project.

4. Fail fast

Few projects run flawlessly, so if you’re going to fail it’s best to learn from your mistakes and move on as fast as you can. Agile team communications and collaboration within Kahootz allow you to report potential failure quickly and intervene immediately. Because workspaces let stakeholders offer immediate feedback and build teams quickly with the right resources to resolve issues, you have the infrastructure to keep work transparent, under permanent review and on track. By taking action on issues as they arise, you can log and share the lessons learned so they benefit future projects and failures aren’t repeated.

5. Continuous planning

One of the major benefits of agile working is giving users the power to plan continuously. Team members can use Kahootz to share, discuss, review and update key milestones, priorities, project plans and release schedules. They can also quickly arrange and co-ordinate meetings – and by going online or by arranging teleconferences, they can make meetings more frequent as many of the logistical barriers to face-to-face meetings are removed.

Kahootz also empowers team members who are unable to attend a meeting. When the meeting is over, they can use their membership of collaborative workspaces to review and contribute ideas and issues and take responsibility for action points. And because Kahootz captures and retains all information relating to a project, the workspace becomes a persistent store of information and deliberations – ensuring that no idea is lost and new project or team members can quickly investigate past views and options that have been approved or discounted.

As you can see, agile working strategies have fast, flexible and transparent communication at their heart. Collaboration becomes much less prescriptive and team members become empowered to respond to feedback and findings straight away, revising plans in the light of successes and failures and keeping projects on track. Because many more people can be involved, it becomes simpler to gain a real understanding of stakeholders’ needs and adopt strategies that take them into account. Agile working also increases the knowledge shared with those who need it, helping avoid repeated errors and building on earlier knowledge and best practice.

Most importantly, success in agile working breeds future success – as users experiment and find new ways of putting collaboration and stakeholder engagement at the heart of their work. You can try it first-hand in your own organization with a free trial of Kahootz. Follow the link below to get started today.

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