Is the agile approach really working?

The twelve Agile principles – created to help solve IT challenges – have been around for nearly two decades now, inspiring many process frameworks, like SCRUM. The agile principles are still as relevant as ever by using people-focused communication, embracing changing requirements, creating trusted and empowered teams. They’ve done well to allow for more creativity, more flexibility, and end-result products that more closely align with a solution that the client wants. This all sounds perfectly ideal – and in some industries it absolutely is but:

How are these Agile principles applied in the context of regulatory compliance, and is it working?

Process Pitfalls

A common feature we observe in the large, complex, Agile-based projects is many teams working together without a clear direction being set. Often multiple product owners steer teams based on business as usual priorities as well as strategic priorities, leading to a lack of harmony, and stuttered progress. While there is fluidity and freedom in solution-building, the lack of clear and aligned direction and orchestration often leads to confusion. Further (and we notice this especially with multinational initiatives), teams working within such complicated, multi-team situations can waste a lot of time understanding precisely how they need to operate (what their role is, who is responsible for what, etc.) – essentially re-introducing many of the issues they are trying to avoid. Much time is spent on optimizing the process and not focusing on the delivery itself.

Often, we also observe a lack of discipline – the tougher, more “unfun” tasks not being picked up at all, or being put-off or procrastinated upon (e.g., overall story point calibration, full high-level baseline, overall release planning). Planning is often seen as irrelevant, unimportant, or worse – as a way to micromanage teams and pin them to a spot. Product Owners – often selected from existing teams due to their expertise and vision, can also find it hard to balance their “line” goals with the goals of change programs. The increased delegated responsibility across the team can sometimes create a lack of clear decision making, with many coaches, and advisors, but a lack of strong, integrated leadership. These Scaled Agile projects generally and repeatedly suffer from a lack of coordination and orchestration that leads to headaches and unnecessary delays. This lack of clarity/alignment can often make projects and program appear to be ad-hoc and exploratory – traits that can work well in some cases, but not so feel that can work absolutely brilliantly in more creative industries on projects without hard deadlines like those of the regulatory sector.

Oversight, Progress Checks and Deadlines

Compliance deadlines are often absolute and inflexible. Therefore, meeting them requires structured planning, regular checkpoints to make sure you’re on track, and all of this, of course, needs to be coordinated by someone with the oversight of not just the core project, but also of the many dependencies. Without utilizing a framework, obtaining this insight can be more difficult in Agile environments. Setting clear, unified priorities and markers for all teams requires effective communication from leadership towards the teams, without breaking trust, or empowerment. Unfortunately, in seeking the element of control, executives are often unaware of how to balance these elements and how and when to intervene in a rapidly evolving workplace.

Our Hybrid Approach

We’ve developed a somewhat hybrid approach from all of our experience and learnings – harmonizing the principles of Agile with the strength and discipline of program management – in a modern way, yet suited for the specific needs of regulatory compliance.

With this orchestration, we reduce and mitigate the divisiveness, confusion, and frustration that regularly accompanies this debate.

We help empower senior managers to provide leadership effectively while allowing the fluidity and freedom that makes Agile so important. It’s about establishing the vision and priorities clearly, communicating these to the teams, and ensuring that everyone is aligned towards the same stepping stones. In such a manner, we ensure that everyone is speaking the same language.

Bridging the gap and taking the best parts of both methods requires a great deal of understanding – especially of the nuances – something we’re very passionate about. Making deadlines with certain quality and criteria (and minimal stress) requires a two-speed approach – underlying fundamentals, while also delivering consistent and regular value.

If you’re curious about our processes or anything else, don’t hesitate to reach out.

As always, thanks for reading, TEAM ATOMIC

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