How does Agile apply to Operations?

Much of my working career has involved a mixture of project delivery and operations and while the technology has changed since the 90’s what defines excellent project delivery or great operations hasn’t.

Excellent project delivery is all about time, cost and quality/value-added and operations is about the processes and services that continue to deliver value outside of a project. (To understand what is a project have a read over at PMI.)

One of the unique aspects of operations, unlike a project, is that operations never stops. Operation teams have no control over their workload. Unlike say an agile team “pulls” product backlog items into their sprint plan based on what they feel they can commit too. An operational team,especially customer facing team, has to manage whatever work they receive from their a customers.

But this constant flow of work doesn’t mean agile practices aren’t relevant. If anything, I often feel they are more relevant to operations than delivery! One of the critical values of agile is the need to respond to constant change, a definite need in operations today. In fact, all four agile values apply more to operations that delivery but that is a topic for another day.

The key to introducing agile to operations teams and to respond to change is to understand the heart of agile:

  • Collaboration
  • Delivery
  • Reflection
  • Improvement

These four principles can guide any team through the introduction of agile. I’m a firm believer that if you are living these values, the actual tools and techniques you are using are irrelevant. (Sorry to all the agile coaches and trainers our there.) Having said that there are a few “traditional” tools and techniques that can help operations teams.

So here’s my list of some easy agile practices/ideas that can help operations teams:

  1. Daily Stand-Ups
  2. Fortnightly Retrospectives
  3. Kanban boards
  4. Visual Indicators of success
  5. Theory of Constraints

What are your go to agile practices and ideas?

Employee Engagement and Social Media

Over the last 2 weeks I have been giving a series of presentations looking at how social media (and Enterprise 2.0) can drive employee engagement. While the slides are available on slideshare for download I wanted to give a bit of context.

As part of preparing the presentation I came across a presentation by Susan Scrupski from Soco Partners (I also lifted several other ideas from one of her presentations to the 2.0 Adoption Council, thanks Susan!), where Susan introduced the concept of 2.0 Zen:

  • Collaboration
  • Trust
  • Authenticity
  • Transparency

This struck a chord with me. If someone had asked me to describe good social media these are the words I would have used. But I started looking at this a little further, from an HR point of view, and from my research on engagement. I have found five general attributes that enable employees to feel valued and therefore engaged:

  • Involvement in decision making
  • Feel they are able to voice their ideas, & managers listen to these views
  • Have line of sight between employee performance & company performance
  • They have career development
  • When the organisation is concerned for employees’ health & wellbeing

While looking at this it occurred to me that an organisation that had a highly engaged workforce exhibited the same attributes as Susan’s 2.0 Zen:

  • Collaboration
  • Trust
  • Authenticity
  • Transparency

From this I built the rest of the presentation, which you can find below.

Leaders are temporary

WOWA couple of years ago the Collab@Work blog wrote a very interesting article on how leadership in MMORPG’s, such as World of Warcraft is temporary. They provided reasons why in these MMORPG’s it makes sense to have temporary leaders:

In those games, leadership is a temporary position. At one point in time, you’re leading, the week after you’re following another leader. Reasons vary: too much pressure, less availability, someone else better suited for the job at hand, …

Unfortunately they highlighted that in traditional business leadership is virtually never temporary. Over the last couple of years the growth in this idea around temporary leadership in the way many small business collaboratively work together, especially when it comes to businesses based around the web. I would say that this is in part due to the fact that people in small business are very engaged in what they do, otherwise they would go out of business. Engagement is a key attribute required for temporary leadership to work.

Temporary leadership has many benefits again to quote Collab@Work:

  • having been a leader makes you a better follower. You understand better what the leader is trying to achieve
  • being a follower makes you a better leader. Your experience as a follower is still recent
  • from an organizational perspective, you can “test” more leaders including the ones that wouldn’t have been considered. That can dramatically increase your leadership bench, and see who are the best leaders rather than the best leader potentials.

The post was based on a HBR article from May 2008 which pointed out that  in today’s business:

A lot of work will be done by global teams—partly composed of people from outside the institution, over whom a leader has no formal authority—that are assembled for a single project and then disbanded. Collaboration within these geographically diverse groups will, by necessity, occur mainly through digital rather than face-to-face interaction.

Sounds like an MMORPG to me.  For example it makes sense that people who can successfully execute a 6 hour raid with 50 guild members based in 10 countries is developing the right skills needed for business in the future. They are also learning how to effectively leverage all of the social technologies we have available.

So as both articles say do not necessarily dismiss the hours spent by your children or friends on these games, they may in fact be learning the critical skills to be the next world leaders.