Feb 11

Agile Teams in Non-Agile Environments: Challenges and Benefits

agile in non-agile environments

Let’s face it: agile methodologies are becoming a must for every Project Portfolio Manager (PPM) who wants to stay up to date with contemporary management techniques. Agile was born and firstly adopted in the software industry, then turned from a niche fad into a leading approach to work management. That’s mostly thanks to its efficiency, flexibility, and focus on business value. 

According to a study conducted in 2020 by Organise Agile performed in 19 countries, nearly half of all organisations have been using methodologies based on the agile approach for at least three years.

These companies are mainly using agile as a methodology for their change programs – known as agile transformations. These are large organisational changes that embrace agile working in small multidisciplinary teams that deliver results quickly, experimental, and iteratively. Well-known companies that use agile include Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamblereads the report

The recalled examples are mostly connected to IT. What about other functional areas of the organization? For example, more and more HR teams tend to use agile. They coexist and communicate with other classic-oriented departments that may adopt these methods in the future. This transformation brings a sheer number of challenges and benefits.

Challenges of applying new methods

Transformation, especially of the digital kind, is not an easy process. Pointing out the challenges, that teams usually encounter on their way to agility, is relatively easy: 

  • Mentality

The biggest challenge. Classic methodologies imply a strict, point-by-point work line – from planning to execution to testing. Meanwhile, agile development is based on close cooperation with clients, continuous testing, and controlling each part of the work process. Also, it implies a significant shift in focus: agile is mostly about here and now. Teams want to give the customers the best product they need at this exact moment.

Although big companies tend to plan for a few years ahead, they can still implement an agile approach to management. Methodologies born from this approach do not oppose planning – they just opt for more flexibility in planning to maximize business value. 

Also, it’s worth mentioning that every early adopter of agile methods in the company must be prepared to work at the grassroots, which may take some time. However, it’s necessary to build a new culture.

  • Language 

It’s easy to be agile when your team of passionate people wants to adopt the change. But what about communication and collaboration with other, non-agile departments? The first common differentiator of agile teams is the jargon they use. Terms like “Scrum Master,” “Epic,” or even “Iteration” might sound confusing for non-agile workers. The shift in terminology goes even deeper, as teams scrub off the word “project” in favor of “product.” It’s a subtle but significant change. The shift from project to product stems from a different approach to value generation. In classic management, value is generated when a project is completed. In the agile approach, companies operate by continuously contributing to value streams. “Product” is developed in a value stream, which evolves to generate maximum value for clients and stakeholders. 

How to handle it? For example, the Government Digital Service in Great Britain emphasizes the use of non-agile language that workers will understand. It’s also essential to have an interpreter translator – someone responsible for connecting with various stakeholders and making them understand each other.

  • Applicability 

Agile is a great way to plan your work, both for employees and managers, but it’s not a silver bullet. It suits marketing, IT, or even HR, yet it’s hard to imagine building roads with agile methodology. If so, each mile would be different, and that’s not for drivers.  Also, it’s hard to implement this approach in construction, with its standardized method of building foundations first, and rooftops last. It’s easy to imagine that a different approach is necessary. Yet, some aspects like architecture or planning can adopt the agile approach. The same approach applies to the company’s work culture. Even if the main product is designed with a traditional methodology, some aspects of it, like IT or marketing initiatives, can successfully implement agile to their work.

Figure 2. which company’s departments can use Agile approach successfully.

Benefits of new methods 

We are already aware of the “cons,” or rather challenges of agile. What about “pros”? This approach brings a unique set of advantages to the table. Proper implementation and good practices in place can make a key difference inside a company.

  • It’s less risky 

Focusing on business value helps managers spot initiatives that do not generate value and either modify or cancel them as soon as possible to focus on those that do. The key is to avoid working on products that have no value for the company. One of the crucial features of agile is its flexibility. Teams spend less of their time on bureaucracy and more on cooperation with clients and each other. Errors and mistakes are detected in the early phase of development, which helps in getting better prepared for the next steps. The workflow is fast and allows teams to suit the project to the client’s actual needs, not fulfil some hard-to-change milestones set in the planning phase. Agility means less paperwork, fewer errors, and hardly any missed deadlines.

  • Greater control over product 

As teams are focused more on their goals than on paperwork and reporting, they know and understand their product better. Work on one product builds more significant engagement and brings better results. A more horizontal (flat) command structure can improve the flow of knowledge and information, critical in fixing errors and developing mutually beneficial relationships with customers. The more you know about the product, the better.   

  • Greater popularity 

Nearly half of all surveyed organisations have been using an agile methodology for three years or longer. That concerns both small teams and whole departments. It’s a sign of the times, and certainty of a new business landscape, where immense flexibility and emphasis on human interaction prevail. In job interviews, candidates often ask HR reps about methodologies used in the company. Better be prepared for this shift.

how to navigate between classic, hybrid and agile methods in BigPicture

BigPicture, an app that connects different methodologies

Transformation is not an easy thing. It’s a journey. That’s why BigPicture has been designed to support both classic and agile approaches, as well as hybrid initiatives. Learn how to blend these methodologies within a single portfolio. \

Class, hybrid and agile methods in BigPicture

The inevitability of change in your organization isn’t something you should worry about. More agile methods are not equal to instant chaos and worse communication with teams. With proper tools, it can be almost impossible to note that non-agile environments adapt to new working ways. 

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