Agile is For Culture Transformations
Updated: Feb 22
December Blog By Regina Krasner
When the Agile Manifesto was introduced over 20 years ago, it was considered a revolutionary concept that customer outcomes are valued first, and the needs of the customers drive the plan. The concepts and the tools greatly improved outcomes for software development programs and the clients that investing in these programs. What was found was the concepts of agile have universal application. Program Management, Change Management, and even day-to-day operations have benefited in countless ways from the principles and tools of Agile.
Here at AvantGarde (AG), we recently implemented Agile concepts for a culture transformation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where we have been deeply embedded in organizational development work for the past ten years. Based on client feedback and project outcomes, it was a success! For AG’s client at one of the larger USDA agencies, AG looked deeply at what is needed for trust, inclusion, and belonging. Sure enough, we found that agile principles align to the outcomes of building the transformative culture that our clients expect. We also uncovered that because our clients were able to build the tenets of inclusion, trust, and belonging organizationally, then the innovation, collaboration, and improved organizational outcomes followed – faster than they thought possible.
Can you do it too? Of course. Here is how building trust, inclusion, and belonging cultures can be achieved using Agile.
In trust building, consistency is king: trust is built in small moments, in consistent actions rather than words – proving that you do what you say you will do.
How did Agile help? We constructed a sprint structure with our organizational and communication anchors rooted into every sprint. Those anchors were acted on every month. The client staff expected them and trust was built because the leadership acted upon them.
Small Changes, Frequently
In trust building, actions matter. Seeing small changes frequently prove to staff that leadership is serious about listening, learning, and growing.
How can Agile help? Agile is known for the concept of minimum viable product – getting updates into the system as quickly as possible. During the sprints, the AG team worked with leadership to find one thing that could be improved in that month and did it. At the end of the month, that result was implemented and shared with the organization. Each time staff saw changes, trust was built. When they saw themselves in that change, they felt more included.
Fail Fast: Failure is the most important way to learn
In trust building, owning up to mistakes is one of the most important ways to build trust. That is sometimes a difficult and vulnerable position, but it is vital.
How can Agile help? Learning from mistakes is a key component and is what makes Agile so powerful. Once the stigma is taken out of failure, the staff feels more comfortable to learn, take risks, and innovate. AG worked closely with our USDA client team to build the trust so risk-taking and innovation could thrive.
Bring Everyone to the Table
In trust building, decisions should be a group effort – staff does not want to be left out, they want to be heard. Allowing for opportunities to be involved is an enormous trust builder. When staff is included and listened to, engagement and innovation immediately rise.
How can Agile help? Teams are expected to include members from all areas of the project, including the customer. Each team member is valued as an equal and management is there to help the teams be successful, not run the project. AG built frequent engagement opportunities with staff and the leadership team was there to support only when asked. Staff engagement rose, trust for leadership grew, and the teams brought innovative and exciting new ideas to the teams.
Want to hear the funny part? The term “agile” was not mentioned to the client when implementing this work. While agile principles were vital to our ability to implement this work, it was a mindset versus a stated objective.
The impact and client feedback to AG was staggering: “Everything you touch works.” “We could not have done this without you.” “People ask me all of the time, ‘How did you do this?’” and our favorite – “We want to get involved!” and “We feel listened to.” In the end the outcome of our work moved the needle in improvement of culture, employee engagement, and overall scores upwards!
AG’s approach is structured yet flexible. Outcome focused. Engaging. Sustainable. Are you looking to move the needle in true culture and engagement for your organization? Our team would love to share our approach and see how it may align to the culture building work in your organization. Contact Regina Krasner to learn more and be sure to read about AG’s solutions on our website www.avantgarde4usa.com/capabilities/services-and-solutions.