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How to drive agile adoption… with your client base (part one)

We see the benefits of working agile every day.

This way of working has transformed our operations, and established a path for sustainable growth. We’ve become more responsive to change and less susceptible to the volatility of sudden shifts in the market – like the pandemic.

Agile has meant that we’ve been able to prioritise our people over the processes we follow. We’ve been able to champion flexibility, speed, collaboration, communication and cross-functional setups, to match the strengths of our people.

But – without our team’s backing, this wouldn’t have been the case.

If adoption isn’t handled properly, agile ways of working can cause conflict with clients, and the benefits are derailed by misunderstandings and unfulfilled expectations.

The success of any agile projects hinges on a balance of three factors: scope, budget and time.

If any one of these three variables change, the other two will have to change with it; the scope of a project can’t keep growing without budget or delivery time being adjusted, for example.

In the first instalment of this two-part series, we explore the best practices you should embrace to help keep things on track and drive agile adoption among your team and client base.

Regularly update product roadmaps

Once the scope of a project has been defined, clients are concerned with one thing: timing. They want to know how long it will take before their product or service is ready for market.

But here’s the thing with working agile: timescales aren’t set in stone. They’re subject to change, and your client needs to be aware of this.

Your roadmap should address and offer solutions to client problems that functionality will help solve. By setting out a sequence of steps that will help you reach your project’s end goal, you can ensure that clients are informed of how each step will bring them closer to their objective.

It’s important to invest time in getting the roadmap right first – but it’s equally important to update it as you go.

The very nature of agile working means that changes are inevitable, so stay on top of them and make transparency and communication your top priorities. Make sure the client is aware of added features or functionality that will affect future timelines.

A properly maintained roadmap will make conversations about changing deadlines far easier to have with clients.

For your team, it will help them visualise your business strategy, making it clear what various stakeholder expectations are and what needs to be done to meet them.

Meetings

For agile projects to be a success, there needs to be an open line of communication.

And we mean both for the client, and internally for your pod or team members.

For the team, you should regularly schedule scrum meetings. Scrums will take place after a series of ‘sprints’ where teams work for a specific amount of time, so you can come together to evaluate output and processes to decide on a plan going forward.

For clients, regularly schedule two types of meetings with them after sprints:

  1. Vision-alignment meetings: an opportunity for your team and the client to assess a project’s progress. It’s a chance to take a look at the roadmap and make any necessary adjustments to the budget and delivery deadline. It also allows you to overcome difficulties together and keep that unified vision for the project clear. If you both agree on what’s needed and how you’ll get there, there’s less chance of client expectations not being met – which prevents the need for revisions and additional spending.
  2. Retrospective meetings: these give the product delivery team a platform to express what is working and what isn’t. If the client is involved in these, they can provide positive feedback, which acts as a huge confidence boost to your team, and they can approve proposed changes straight away.

In the client’s absence, another way of keeping lines of communication open is to involve account managers or delivery managers in all agile meetings.

They can act as an intermediary between the two worlds, communicating client wishes or new requirements to the delivery team, and explaining technical limitations to clients to negotiate realistic deliverables.

Declutter your backlog

If you’re following an agile process, it’s likely you’ve got a ticket-tracking system in place to plan sprints and scrums and work through other tasks.

For the benefit of all involved, it’s imperative that you steer clear of technical language and jargon, and clearly outline changes and product requirements. This will help ensure everyone remains on the same page and nothing is lost in translation.

The best way to declutter your backlog is to involve the client in this process.

As a project progresses over time, your backlog will start to fill up with tweaks big and small, requests from the client, and more. By including the client in this process and being completely transparent, you can decide on what deliverables are achievable according to budget and time restraints.

Managing your backlog carefully (with the input of your client) allows you to remove unnecessary features and/or requests – the end goal of the project remains the focus and you won’t run out of time or money. Win win.

Be flexible and set boundaries

If your company is well-versed in the benefits of working agile and have adopted this as your norm, you can’t expect the same to happen overnight with your client’s team.

They’ll have an established way of working; this will be impossible to overturn in such a short space of time – especially in the case of larger organisations in more traditional industries like healthcare for example, who are often dependent on legacy systems and methods.

Instead, you should consider implementing a hybrid approach.

Focus on devising a strategy among your team that allows you to switch between an agile approach during the development phase, and a more linear approach in phases where the client is heavily involved.

By adopting a client-centric approach to how you work and incorporating their existing methodologies, you’ll help inspire confidence and ensure the project runs smoothly.

Another key element of establishing work patterns is setting clear boundaries; it’s a central tenet to meaningful communication with any client and will help set expectations.

Don’t overcommit or overpromise; it puts unnecessary strain on your team. Here’s the upshot:

  • Define what lines of communication you’ll use (phone, Skype, in-person meetings, etc)
  • Establish how often you’ll meet to discuss the project’s progress
  • Always ask questions to clarify information.

Be polite, be courteous, but be firm too.

Are you looking for ways to drive agile adoption among your client base?

By keeping collaboration and transparency at the forefront of our approach, we’ve helped many clients wake up to the real benefits that an agile process represents – and with our strategic advisory service, we can help you do the same.

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