Risk Management in Agile Working
In my previous blog I looked at the management of risks that occur in agile projects. The agile developments mentioned seek to deliver new ways of working. These developments require organisation wide change that support workplaces and associated services. It is acceptable to assume risks are more volatile at times like these. The previous blog piece raised quite a lot of interest, therefore this blog will identify what is appropriate when mitigating risks in agile working projects and how you should approach it.
The list used in the previous blog illustrated the process of risk assessment. The mitigation actions described in this blog are what Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) recommend in terms of best practice. It is essential to anticipate the risks identified when setting up an agile working initiative and furthermore to plan. Having a robust, integrated project plan and process that clearly sets out what needs to be done, by whom and when is critical. This tends not to be in anyone’s BAU toolkit before they encounter agile working implementation. But it is the way to avoid common mistakes that organisations often make when starting out on this journey. It probably sounds obvious, but in our experience, these mistakes all too often lead to a lot of trouble.
Let us now look at the highest risks identified in our previous blog’s risk assessment:
Lack of top management / stakeholder enthusiasm / engagement
Ensuring top management enthusiasm is often a main cause of failure in change projects. Lack of clarity in the “why” and a clear linkage to the business objectives is the cause of lack of focus and enthusiasm for change. Similarly changes to those in top management positions can result in the sponsorship of Agile Working projects simply disappearing.
These risks may be mitigated by ensuring that Real Estate builds and maintains strong relationships with top management. This will sustain ongoing workplace strategies that are recognised as aligned with business objectives. Also, enabling leaders to see how agile working will benefit the organisation and not just the real estate objectives. Given the potential impact, it is highly desirable that top management are the ones engineering practices as well as sponsoring and supporting initiatives. This will ensure the initiative and agile practices last even if one person leaves.
Unsupportive IT strategies/plans
The change to Agile Working may not be the only major initiative the organisation is undertaking which will impact peoples’ work and the overall agile workflow. It is likely that one or more IT development or major operational projects is underway at the same time, and this could be a major risk to an Agile Working programme. Newer forms of internal communication requiring wider access to the internet, greater variety of handheld devices and collaboration software may run counter to IT’s refreshment plans or create confusion to the rollout of a new business system.
The key to mitigating risks lies in the transparency of forward plans in real estate and IT. Effective plans are those that take a holistic view of the cumulative benefits and changes involved. The change initiative involves a continuous integration and active support of a senior executive sponsor is necessary.
Insufficient time & resources given to complete and embed the behavioural changes
The transition to agile working requires people to change the way they work and use workspace differently. Real estate doesn’t have the power to change people’s behaviour. The same goes for other service areas like HR, IT or Facilities Management. It is essential to harness real power from elsewhere in the organisation. This will make people respond to the call to action and take the change seriously.
A change programme requires significant time and resource for its success. It involves an inclusive discussion about what the changes mean for individuals and teams and for understanding “why” the changes are necessary. The importance of a planned approach to communication (and the delivery of messages from the “right” people) throughout the agile project management will also help to maintain enthusiasm. Change takes time if it is to be successful and embedded to last.
Overconfidence in ability to effect behavioural change
In traditional workplace changes, real estate is in control of layouts and delivery. Due to people not having to change the way they work, real estate has the power to deliver a successful outcome. Changes to agile forms of work are mainly about people and team members rather than physical layouts and office services. The behavioural changes involved fall mainly outside the control of real estate.
When mitigating risks, real estate must recognise the boundary of its own powerbase, this will effect the behavioural changes required for agile working. The purpose is to recognise that people look to their line management leaders for direction as it is the managers role to make employees understand what is required of them in a business context. Organising teams and installing agile methods will be better embedded by line managers and top level management. It is the difference between agile working being “done to” them and being done with/for the business – which is a world of difference in employees when responding to change.
Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) have been helping organisations navigate agile working transitions. AWA guides organisations towards mitigating risks and have implemented organisational changes in the UK, US and EMEA. Members of agile working initiatives will benefit from getting in touch and seeking the advisory of a workplace consultant.