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Agile: Sprinting To A New Way Of Work

Scrums, sprinting, squads – Agile sounds more like a sports team than a new way of working, but it’s Spark’s new work style. Eleisha McNeill investigates.

29 October 2021

If you’ve ever worked in a large organisation, you’ll have heard stories of big, expensive information technology projects that either fell over, or didn’t deliver what was promised.

The ‘Agile’ model was designed to address that issue.

It started in Japan as a way of breaking large IT projects into smaller pieces of work, each handled by a self-managing team who made small but frequent improvements to software or business.

It’s about making workers and managers more responsive and more nimble – more agile.

New Zealand is a relatively late adopter. Already, most of the top 1000 companies in the United States are already using the method.

Back in March, Spark told employees it was adopting the Agile way of working, and gave them five days to sign employment contracts agreeing to the work practice, or consider themselves redundant.

“Within our own organisation we’ve had very little resistance,” says Dr Clare Barber, Chief Digital Officer at Spark.

“A few people have taken the option to opt out, but by and large our people are really excited about the change.”

A new way of working

Essentially, Agile project management aims to complete a project in the most efficient way, without bottlenecks.

It replaces traditional hierarchical control with a flatter structure.

Business leaders act as catalysts, directing and setting up systems so people can do their jobs effectively.

Each self-managing team prioritises its project into tasks, and delegates those tasks to the team member best suited to complete it.

Its own manifesto

Agile has a whole manifesto which explains its values and principles – and its own vocabulary.

· ‘Scrum’ is the framework used to take action on an Agile development.

· Work is done by ‘squads’ of between five and nine people in two to four-week ‘sprints’.

· Squads are kept ‘focused’ on the job by daily 15-minute meetings led by a ‘scrum master’.

“Each of these squads is about assembling the right mix of skills, talent and experience to collectively make the big calls that will underpin our ongoing success across the company,” says Barber.

“We’ve discovered that the future of work is about bringing cross-functional teams together that can work with all sorts of different skill sets to help to design the future.”

Just another fad?

There have been many different management styles adopted over the years.

· In the 1970s, ‘management by objectives’ was considered cutting-edge leadership practice.

· In the 80s, it was ‘total quality management’.

· The 90s saw ‘business process re-engineering’.

So, is Agile here to stay, or will it fall by the wayside? That’s where employee engagement comes in.

The success or failure of new ways of working lies with an organisation’s ability to commit to new practices, and to engage their employees.

Says Barber: “For us, Agile is about building teams, empowering them, letting them have autonomy, developing their skills mastery, aligning people to a common purpose and creating a culture of success.

“We believe that working in this way leads to much higher employee engagement.”

First published 24 July, 2018

Story by Eleisha McNeill

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