Transition to Agile Working Gone off Track?

All business changes require preparation, planning, execution and maintenance if they are to be successful and persist into the future. Typically at Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), what we see is a HUGE amount of work going into the “birth” of the agile initiative, from those supporting the users and the users themselves. However, once the first day of operation is over, there seems to be an inexorable movement away from the initiative as other projects beckon.

Agile Working: What can you do when Agile Working has gone off track?

However good the preparation for agile working, there is a need to stick with the programme for a time after the “go live” point. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Change takes time to embed, which can be difficult for some to comprehend. Take your eye off the ball and many people will revert to type and old behaviours – undoing the good that has been done. Did you know that 70% of change initiatives fail? The assumption that change is a “one-step fix” is a key influence of this astonishing reality.
  • Despite providing preparation activities for people – not everyone will have fully engaged. This is detrimental as employee engagement is pivotal to the success of change projects. Employees transitioning through the change need support when trying to find the “what’s in it for me” aspect as well as finding out how everything will work in an agile environment.
  • You never get everything entirely right so there is a need to fine tune. Apart from obvious urgent issues, leaving other items for the 3-month post occupancy review point is probably wise. Give people time to settle down before changing again.
  • As people adapt and get used to the new way of working, there is an opportunity to keep progressing and changing, avoiding people regressing.


What causes agile working to go off track?

In our experience, the main things that cause agile to go off track are:

    • A change of sponsor / senior leader who doesn’t buy into agile working


    • The project team moves on too soon


    • The behavioural change isn’t fully embedded so people revert to old behaviours


    • People take advantage of flexible working arrangements and tend to work from home without properly agreeing how it will work productively for them and their team
    • BAU processes aren’t established


What can you do to ensure agile working success?

The best approach is to plan for the future way of operating long before the go live point. Here are some thoughts:

    • Have a clear idea of how things will work in the new environment. Have a clear vision as to what the future of work and the workplace design and experience will be like. This enables you to identify and plan the workplace strategy for delivery – both for the users and from a facilities management services and workplace maintenance point of view. Waiting until you’ve gone live isn’t the time to turn your attention to BAU – do that in the early stages so it doesn’t come as a surprise!
    • As part of the planning – consider what you will do if you lose an influential sponsor or agile working leader. Better still, try to have several so that you don’t lose support at a critical juncture. Many times a new broom sweeps clean just because there is a desire to make yet another change and they don’t really “get” agile working. The proper foundations need to be in place so that agile working and the agile working environment can be sustained.
    • Think about getting agility embedded in your recruitment (CareerArc’s survey found 75% of job seekers/employees rate flexible working as a top priority) and induction processes. Ensure it is reflected wherever your culture manifests itself. It should simply be “the way we do things around here” – not linked to “the project” that somehow ends and fizzles out.
    • Provide training on agile working and managing agile teams – the same skills apply as working together, but you really must think about doing things differently.
    • Provide ongoing support for people who are catching up, trying to make agile work for them. However good your workplace change management, there are always people who don’t engage ahead of the move. Workshops on new technologies; sharing sessions where people talk about how the new office design works and the different settings can be used; and refining protocols and team charters will all help embed the new way of working. Try to ensure that getting involved in these sessions doesn’t make people look foolish for not engaging earlier on. If they feel that “it’s too late” to learn, they’ll carry on with old behaviours and practices.


Practice makes… new habits and behaviours

It takes time, reinforcement, and repetition to form new behaviours and solidify and transition to agile working. A popular myth that it only takes 21 days to form a new habit was challenged by a study that found that 66 days is closer to the truth (on average – it can take up to 254 days!). Most people have been used to working the same way for years – and that is comfortable for them. Doing things differently takes effort and more energy, so don’t be surprised if things start to slip. Just be ready to catch them and put them back on track. Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) has over 25 years’ experience helping organisations make the transition to agile ways of working. If you’d like to benefit from what we’ve learned, please get in get in touch. This concludes our miniseries of blogs on implementing agile working. If you’ve been inspired by what you’ve read and would like to talk to us about any aspect, please do get in touch. All the thinking is embedded in our Agile Working Bootcamp – a 2-day fast track course for people in Real Estate and Facilities Management who are implementing agile working (or considering it) and need to know the best way to avoid the pitfalls and make it a success.

This article is part of a series written by Karen Plum, Director of Research & Development at Advanced Workplace Associates on implementing agile working. Karen has spent the last 15 years helping organisations transition to different, more flexible and yes “agile” ways of working. More recently she’s trained many people in the fundamentals of implementing agile working, predominantly those from RE/Property/FM functions who need to up their game, know what to do, avoid the common pitfalls and see the best path to delivery and sustainability.

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