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After UC Expo 2015: What is agile working?

Last month, Kahootz attended UC Expo 2015 at London’s Olympia. We knew it would be a great event, but there was one thing we found particularly inspiring about the many exhibitors and attendees. Everyone seemed to have really embraced the idea that achieving innovation in the workplace requires more than just technology – it requires the heightened level of teamwork and collaboration that technology makes possible.

It was also encouraging to see so many people at our UC Expo seminar, ‘How government departments are improving agile working in a secure cloud environment’. There is clearly a strong interest in the use of cloud collaboration workspaces that can drive agility in the public sector – and we expect this interest to have sky-rocketed by the time UC Expo 2016 rolls around.

(For those who missed it, you can take a look at the presentation here.)

If there is one thing that could be holding back the delivery of agile practices for some organisations, it’s confusion about the meaning of the term (hopefully, this doesn’t apply to anyone who attended our seminar!). So in the aim of helping more organisations harness the benefits of the agile approach, here’s our attempt to clarify ‘agile’ – and why it’s so important.

Let’s start by defining what agile is not…

Agile working is not flexible working

It’s mildly frustrating to see agile used interchangeably with flexible or remote working – and unfortunately it seems to be happening more regularly, for example in this article.

Certainly an agile organisation will support flexible working wherever necessary – that almost goes without saying. To the agile organisation, the idea that employees must be in a certain location, at a certain time, to complete an action will seem curiously outdated today. However, the scope of agile extends far beyond flexible working, which is essentially about using technology to overcome a practical obstacle. Agile is both a mindset and methodology.

Agile is not the opposite of planning and documentation

In some people’s understanding, agile is a style of project management in which deliverables are fluid, deadlines are constantly shifting and nothing is ever properly recorded. And unsurprisingly, this makes a lot of people feel very uneasy.

But it couldn’t be more inaccurate. The misconception probably stems from the fact that agile is often explained as an alternative to the traditional ‘waterfall’ model of project management, in which each phase of the project takes place in a clearly defined sequence.

However, agile does not mean any planning. In fact, planning takes place all the time in an agile organisation, but as an iterative activity, rather than one rigid phase of an overarching process. The same applies to documentation – in the agile organisation, materials that document progress are created, added to and refined all the time (but information that does not help a team reach its goal is not retained for the sake of it).

So what is agile working?

“Agile is all about embracing the uncertainty of change and learning how to use it to your advantage.”

I really like this quote, from a post by consultant Daniel Gullo on the blog of agile management software provider VersionOne. It seems a neat encapsulation of what agile is all about – whatever industry or organisation you’re working in.

Today, the working environment is more challenging than ever. Change is a constant reality, not an occasional obstacle. And that means your organisation must be agile – immediately responsive, constantly improving, and ready to address technological developments, unexpected customer feedback or any another unforeseen event at the drop of a hat.

Rigid management and delivery structures are simply inadequate in this environment. The alternative is to place the focus firmly on your people, your product/service, communications and flexibility. This is agile working. 

Look out our next post on How to use the cloud to support agile working.

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