Tag Archives: agile method

FWD50 2017: Government’s going agile, and so can you

If you’ve ever quickly dismissed the idea of working for the feds because it seemed way too slow and bureaucratic, think again. At the FWD50 conference in Ottawa, many of the attendees are public sector employees tasked with guiding digital transformation projects through a more agile government. It’s a meeting of great minds working together to bring tech into brighter focus to better Canadian government, and there was no shortage of tech possibilities brought to the table.

Day one of this conversation on digital transformation focused on workshops all about moving to a digital government, including sessions on becoming agile, data science in government, moving from technologist to digital enabler, and beyond. At FWD50, these conversations take on a government scale but echo strongly for ITDMs throughout the country.

The Canadian government has seen so many failed projects that it’s been forced to change its game—under top-down guidance from the Senate and Treasury Board. But it all goes beyond just software and information technology. To transform, everyone needs to participate. Just like government employees, it’s time to get out of the trenches of technology delivery in your workplace and help your business do better. Here are some key insights for ITDMs from the collaborative discussions that took place at FWD50 day one:

1. Know your customer

When you think of digital transformation and the adoption of agile methodologies, the government probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. In reality, the two are fuelled in part by the government’s core mandate to create value and a better life for Canadians. The problem is that the current state of affairs is no longer sustainable.

The Canadian government supports the IT requirements of various departments through its Shared Services model, but remembering who the actual client is can get a little messy. Is it the department, or the tax-paying public? Agile is all about focus, and a government moving toward digital transformation needs leadership that remembers the who and the why.

2. Admit that you don’t know everything

The current state of government projects has everyone making assumptions. And you know what happens when you assume, right?

Today, the practice is to create reams and reams of documents up front, collecting information that outlines what’s known, what’s unknown but can be known, and an acknowledgement of the things that “we don’t know that we don’t know.” Well, this is where a vendor comes in, and why the government runs into challenges. It takes two to three years to publish these assumptive documents—heck, you’re writing books—that go to tender and uncover requirements and architectures. You’ve spent a pile of money already, and you’re still just making assumptions about what’ll happen during implementation.

Embrace the chaos of not knowing everything. The honesty will set your team up for greater success, unhindered by delusions of absolute control. Speaking of which…

3. Accept that you’re no longer in control

So, the RFP goes out and the contract is awarded to a vendor. RFPs are indicative, and the awarded contract is full of numbers. That’s when we run into what we didn’t know we didn’t know.

Any complex project—IT or otherwise—isn’t getting validated until after the contract is awarded to the vendor. More often than not, we realize what we really want is a capability that didn’t exactly occur to us during the three years we were writing assumptive documentation. Now, we’re no longer in a position to negotiate. At this point, the vendor is managing your world—and you’re just living in it.

The current process is designed to reduce risk, but everyone’s secretly sweating it out, because not having validation is the riskiest approach of all. And that’s the problem the government is trying to solve with agile.

4. Know that culture shock is real

Ironically, agile runs contrary to the massive undertaking of digital transformation. Agile’s about small change, and the opportunity to evolve—not rapidly transform—into a more agile organization. It gives you adaptability.

Agile isn’t something you can buy. It’s a culture shift and a mindset. It’s simple, but it’s not easy to implement in just any large organization. The culture change has to happen before you can have better collaboration, and that can take a long time.

But what starts sooner is implementation. So instead of taking a long journey into a vendor contract, you should start to validate things as soon as possible. This kind of culture shift is more difficult.

5. What red tape?

Without a doubt, there are still constraints in agile government. It still needs to be auditable—and building that feature in isn’t a trivial thing to do. The shift is to stop throwing that up as a barrier; agile sees it as a problem to be solved.

Another thing to understand about agile is that it isn’t prescriptive. It’s not about replacing one way of doing things with another, singular way of doing things. That actually defeats the purpose. If you roll out a prescriptive process, it won’t lead to outcomes you want. What agile is about is making sure people have the tools they need and letting them do the work they know how to do while keeping the outcome in mind.

6. It’s OK to say “oops”

The current mindset is to go big—but don’t make mistakes. Iteration is core to agile, and that’s where you find the problems. It’s another big culture shift: To be transparent, your coworkers will need to speak up if they see that something has gone wrong so everyone can course-correct.

When a project’s done in little pieces, it puts the validation up front and better mitigates risk. It lets you make a mistake, realize it quickly, and talk about how to get back on track. In a complex environment, it doesn’t make sense to try to predict everything. There’s a lot to be said for positivity, but not when it gets in the way of reality.

Agile is disciplined, but it’s a structure that acknowledges that things are going to change. Are you ready to dabble in the art of the possible? Follow along with Tektonika as we dive into days two and three of FWD50 next week and uncover what ITDMs can learn from the government’s focus on digital transformation.

Featured image courtesy of Eva Blue.

5 ways to build an agile team

Creating an agile team can be a delicate art, especially in IT. It’s the challenge every IT decision maker faces: How do you pull together a group of tech professionals with different skill sets—not to mention different mind-sets—and bring out the best in each of them? Sometimes, a little extra attention to the softer or more human side of things can go a long way, although it may not come naturally.

However, millennials are disengaged, according to a recent Gallup poll, and a disengaged team is anything but agile. What’s it going to take to master agility and resilience?

1. Honour psychological safety

Psychological safety is a major success factor for an agile team. If your team members don’t feel safe expressing concerns or doubts (or simply taking risks) because they always feel like they’re one step away from the chopping block, you won’t get their best ideas.

If you create an environment where your team feels free to respectfully disagree with one another (even you) and make mistakes they can learn from, you’re more likely to see innovative and creative thinking within the group. When your team gets a confidence boost from having that sense of security, you have a better chance of retaining your best staff. And a close-knit team will become even better at tackling big projects and solving tough problems in the future.

2. Be transparent and vocal

Long before IT was a thing, poor communication wreaked havoc in the business world and beyond. Millennials in particular need good communication to thrive at the workplace. As an IT leader, you owe it to your team to make their goals crystal clear—otherwise, confusion may creep in, resulting in a dip in morale, or worse, an outcome you hadn’t intended. This is especially true if your IT employees telecommute, because effective communication is even more of a challenge in a remote setting.

Make sure everyone is on the same page by spelling out deliverables, due dates, and accountability for each task. Your agile team members want to understand their roles and responsibilities, but they’re also looking for a sense of where they fit in and how they’ll contribute to the team’s success. Once they know the team’s goals and their role in achieving them, they’ll be far better equipped to make a positive impact.

3. Nurture the right skills

If your business is rapidly changing, you’ve got to deploy the right skills to help it meet the next wave of challenges it faces. I don’t mean just tech skills here—many of the abilities your team members will need to have at the ready are considered soft skills. To start with, they need to be fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses. But awareness alone isn’t enough. Each member needs to be actively working on ways to accentuate their strengths while addressing the areas that need improvement.

Those on your team must also be open to feedback from others in the group, which supports strong communication. Beyond that, adaptability in the form of critical thinking is a must. To take on increasingly complex challenges, your agile team must reflect on what it already excels at—and how it can do even better the next time.

4. Remain steadfast when approaching challenges

As we all know too well in IT, it’s not always smooth sailing when you’re trying to get a project off the ground. But, when handled the right way, challenges can be valuable opportunities for group learning and team bonding. Your staff needs to know that roadblocks happen and that you have faith in them to find a solution.

Think of the IT achievement you’re most proud of. Chances are it involved confronting and resolving some sort of challenge along the way, and you came out the other side stronger and smarter as a result. Support your team in tackling difficulties, and you’ll find your team members even more confident and energized once they’ve cracked the code and found the fix.

5. Create a sense of purpose

No team can truly go above and beyond if it doesn’t have a sense of purpose. What’s the mission of IT at your company? What does success look like to you and your agile team, and how do you want to set yourselves apart within the company? While outlining clear goals on a project or task basis, it’s important to have an overarching sense of purpose—the “why” behind what you do—and communicate that to your team. Once your team becomes invested in your collaborative work, you’ll be surprised at just how much you can accomplish together.

With these focuses, your team will be able to create the agility and resiliency needed take on any project that comes its way, enjoying greater satisfaction and fulfillment in the process. So tell us: How are you leading your agile team to success, and what IT heights do you aim to achieve next?