Agile Suitability Filters

Determine if your organization and project teams are ready for agile

How do you determine the suitability of agile approaches for particular project types or organizations? Different industries (construction, automotive), cultures (supportive, non-supportive) and special project considerations (highly regulated environments, etc.) are all factors in determining these approaches.

Agile Suitability is a large topic but critical for the successful use of agile approaches. In this blog post, I will outline categorization of work, working with agile outside of IT, and culture barriers, while providing basic ideas of how to determine the suitability of agile approaches for each.Can agile approaches be used for package implementations rather than custom development?  What about outside of software for example: construction projects or automotive projects? The short answer is yes, but to understand why we need to step up a level and learn how to categorize work.

Categorizing Work

Work may be defined and repeatable like producing more copies of a consistent product or performing a specialised task. Factory workers and specialists like welders and backhoe operators undertake these critical roles. We call them Industrial Workers (IWs).

Then there is the type of work that is mostly undefined and/or problem solving. It requires subject matter experts to collaborate to solve new problems often with incomplete information. Engineers, designers, teachers, lawyers and doctors are good examples and are what we call Knowledge Workers (KWs).

Peter Drucker coined the term Knowledge Worker in 1957 and now, as more industrial work is either automated or outsourced, it is estimated that 80% of all North American jobs are knowledge work. If you are not sure if your work is industrial work, knowledge work or a hybrid, the following table, also from Peter Drucker, can help.

Industrial WorkKnowledge Work
Work is visibleWork is invisible
Work is specializedWork is holistic
Work is stableWork is changing
Emphasis is on running thingsEmphasis is on changing things
More structure with fewer decisionsLess structure with more decisions
Focus on providing the right answersFocus on asking the right questions

To help determine if your work is Industrial or knowledge based, identify which column your tasks best fit into. For instance, if you are wielding steel pipes all day then your work is visible, specialized and stable. By contrast if you are working with a cross functional team to develop some new product or service then you will be exchanging plans, ideas and feedback so likely work is invisible, holistic and ever changing.

If you identify with the left-hand side of the table, your work is industrial. If you identify more with the right-hand side of the table, your work is knowledge work. Some jobs are split indicating a hybrid role.

Lean and agile approaches were created to help coordinate and facilitate knowledge work. They excel when people are trying to solve novel problems that require divergent stakeholders to come together and collaborate.

Agile Outside of IT

So, to answer the questions about “Can agile approaches be used outside of software?” – Absolutely, agile approaches evolved from lean thinking that were developed for knowledge worker projects. They can also bring useful communication and risk reduction benefits to industrial work projects – but typically need support from plan-driven approaches in those domains.

More specifically, can agile approaches be used in the automotive and construction industry? While the final assembly process of building cars or structures is industrial work, nearly all the upfront design, collaboration and client contracting effort is knowledge work. For automotive, see the book “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” and http://wikispeed.org/ for a great story of using agile approaches to build a new high efficiency road car. For construction, the Lean Construction Institute has a wealth of information in the form of articles, books, videos and conferences dedicated to applying lean and agile principles to the built environment.

Suitability Filters

Beyond determining if your work is industrial or knowledge based, we should look at the organizational and project fit before adopting an agile approach. There may be cultural barriers or project logistic issues that should be identified and transformed before switching to agile. In other words, your work might be knowledge based, but if your organization has always operated with an industrial work mindset then there is preparation to do.

We can use an agile suitability filter to determine if your organization and project teams are ready for agile. These are questionnaires and risk assessment models that help indicate the fit for using agile approaches. If they show good fit, then the transition should require less upfront training and organizational change. If, however, they show a poor initial fit then more work will be required to set those first teams and stakeholders up for success.

Agile suitability filters measure organizational and project characteristics such as buy-in for empowered teams, ongoing access to a customer representative, likelihood of changes, team-size, and other similar metrics. Based on assessments of these characteristics they show the readiness or suitability for using an agile approach.  An example of one such assessment is shown below:

agile suitability

 

In the radar chart above, we see a project called “Online Drugstore” measured against several attributes including Personnel skill levels, Likelihood of changes and Organizational Culture.

Future Blog Posts

In this post, we discussed identifying knowledge work as an indicator for determining if agile approaches are viable for your project. It also covered agile outside of IT and introduced agile suitability filters.  Our next post will look at tailoring agile for package implementations with external vendors.

Mike Griffiths

Agile Practice Lead at RMC Learning Solutions
I am a writer, trainer and practitioner focussed on helping people get better at delivering solutions. I have been fortunate to be involved in the creation of agile approaches, books and training courses. My passion for learning keeps me motivated and the more I learn about building effective teams and delivering value the more excited I am to share these ideas with others. I am truly excited to join the RMC Learning Solutions team and look forward to collaborating with the readers here.

About Mike Griffiths

I am a writer, trainer and practitioner focussed on helping people get better at delivering solutions. I have been fortunate to be involved in the creation of agile approaches, books and training courses. My passion for learning keeps me motivated and the more I learn about building effective teams and delivering value the more excited I am to share these ideas with others. I am truly excited to join the RMC Learning Solutions team and look forward to collaborating with the readers here.
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