AGILE & THE BATTLE FOR BETTER BUSINESS
Agile is a solved problem, in the tech world. In software development environments, it’s now a staple. You would struggle to find a single development team or technology project that isn’t using an agile framework to plan and execute their work. The idea has long passed from experimental to adoption; it has saturated the market.
Little proof is needed for this claim of complete saturation. Just look at the list of certification-ready agile methods: SAFe, Scrum, Crystal, DSDM, Feature-Driven Dev, ASD, Lean Software Dev, Disciplined Agile, RAD. Beyond the certifications you’ll find (often decades old) schools of thought around Wagile, eXtreme Programming, and others. When you can certify yourself in a handful of different frameworks around the same concept, then it’s safe to say that the school of thought is here to stay.
Outside of tech, though, the potential of agile is still largely unrealized. Waterfall methodology is still the dominant approach to project and product management. At the Gunter Group, we feel this is a missed opportunity. The practice and benefits of agile should no longer be the sole domain of nerds.
The Coming Revolution
Agile has revolutionized development, or rather, agile is the response to development’s demand for revolution. Waterfall was the child of the uniquely meandering progress of early software projects. Early development borrowed from manufacturing, aerospace, and defense methodologies of the time, and depended on long runways for delivery (and even occasionally relied on physical manufacturing processes).
However, as software leapt forward, the waterfall methods of old failed to serve the split-second pivots required by the go-to-market environment of modern technology. Software development demanded a new kind of organization, one as iterative and quickly-changing as the 1’s and 0’s upon which it was built. From this need, agile was born.
It is a mistake, however, to limit agile to the tech environs of its birth. There is nothing about agile that is necessarily specific to software development. We repeat: there is nothing about agile that is specific to software development. It is a framework that has application well beyond its homeland.
A renaissance is before us. Agile has yet to have as meteoric an effect on the broader business world as it has in all-things-tech, but this change is on the horizon. In this article, we will explore several simple means for the application of agile in non-tech environments.
This article is for agile practitioners. It is also for anyone else who works in a world of projects and output-oriented teams. That means everyone. Yes, you read that right: everyone. (Even construction has room for agile. There are certainly limits to the application, as failing fast in that landscape could be catastrophic. Construction is a mature industry with many unique frameworks for success, but the concepts of agile are still applicable in creative ways. Design iteration, proposing and awarding subcontractors, and daily standups with subs might be areas for immediate agile-inspired growth).
Tried and true in the tech-focused backbone of our ever-changing world, the revolution of iterative, cross-functional, self-forming teams will ripple through organizations and markets of all kinds. The thoughts below are intended to give you a leg-up in this revolution, to find yourself ahead of the curve in the battle for better business.
The Business Cycle & Agile: An On-Again, Off-Again Relationship
Agile has a place in the business cycle, but only one place. The picture below illustrates this (a notable exception to this limitation can be found in the SAFe framework, which has made progress in utilizing agile in a broader business context). Agile is often embraced by a development team or manufacturing process, but everything upstream and downstream from these teams still think of their work in terms of waterfall. As the landmark book The Lean Startup explains in detail, this often results in products reaching the market after months or years of investment without validation that the product is even needed.
This can be fixed. At TGG, we have seen successes and failures with clients attempting to embrace agile methods. There is no one right or wrong way to embrace agile, but we have seen some general activities or mindsets prevail over others.
Below is a list of high-level considerations you should keep in mind if you are interested in adopting agile in your non-tech team:
Don’t Do Agile for Agile’s Sake: It can be easy for a leader to say, “It works for the Unicorns so it should work for us.” As a result, agile or lean Centers of Excellence sprout up in organizations that are not ready or willing to embrace these methods. Agile only works when a team understands why they are doing it and are engaged in the method in a way that adds value. It is all about developing business agility and driving value to the customer—not just about “doing” agile.
Find the WHY (Value Added): People are more willing to change when they understand why a particular change will benefit them. This is universally true, and is a fundamental concept that drives all successful change efforts. When accompanying a team that is new to agile, break the component parts down into WHYs that demonstrate the value added by an agile element. More on this below.
Use a Light Touch: For teams that have been thinking in terms of waterfall timelines and years-long delivery plans, agile is not intuitive. This is even harder for teams that don’t operate in a project environment, such as operations, finance, or HR. It is uncomfortable for someone new to agile to imagine releasing their work before it is “completely done.” For these people, adopting agile represents a culture change. Use a light touch, and embrace change management best practices. Educate on the value of embracing agile ceremonies and artifacts (see Point #2), and give them time to adjust to a new work culture.
Think About Slicing Small: You might think that the key difference between waterfall and agile is the speed of the work. However, this doesn’t quite capture the power of agile methods. Agile teams don’t work faster—they work smaller. Sprints are only successful when a team can break their work into smaller chunks that can be accomplished, reviewed, and delivered to customers in a matter of weeks. When looking to adopt agile in your non-tech team, this can be one of the hardest yet most rewarding mindsets to shift. Ask yourself the question: “What can we complete this month and deliver to our consumers?”
Start with Standups and Retrospectives: When in doubt, the easiest place to start with agile adoption is with standups and retrospectives. Gather your team together so everyone can give a 30 second status update and share any blockers. Encourage recognitions, because they actually do boost engagement. Periodically bring everyone together to reflect on the way they work, and encourage them to think creatively about small changes they can make to boost productivity or morale. These rituals are baked into agile systems but are often overlooked in the recipes of other structures. They are ceremonies that are simple to implement (their WHYs are easy to understand), and they immediately add value to your team.
Find the WHY: Representing the Value Added by Elements of Agile
In tech, it is easy to take agile for granted. There is little need to investigate why that is the case. Dev teams embrace the frameworks without the need to justify why. Tech simply trusts the efficacy of the model.
Non-tech environments are more skeptical, however. Business units accept the place of agile in their organization’s tech division, because the quality and turnaround of their tech solutions are desirable outcomes. But a chasm exists, an us versus them void between tech and business, in which each realm agrees to the ways of the other without cross-pollination. “Agile works for IT,” says the non-IT department, “but we will carry on as we always have.”
When making the crossover from tech to non-tech, asking WHY is essential. When making the case for an agile adoption in a non-tech environment, it is not enough to know THAT agile works; you also have to understand WHY it works.
The core concept of this article is this: by breaking down the framework into a series of WHYs, you are able to build a business case for its adoption.
In Search of WHY
Before diving into case studies, we’ll pause to give a couple brief examples of how to find WHYs. First, we’ll give an example of finding a WHY, and then we’ll observe an organization that has used this WHY thinking approach to maximize the benefit of agile enterprise-wide.
We’ll start with an example of a WHY. Any agilist knows of two basic roles that tend to show up in any agile framework: the Scrum Master and the Product Owner. But why are these roles so valuable? In short, they capture a tension that exists in every project: throughput versus quality.
The Product Owner represents the customer. He or she is ultimately accountable for the product that hits the market. They massage the backlog, prioritize features, and vouch for the throughput and objectives of the customer. The Scrum Master, on the other hand, is a servant to the team. He or she is responsible for maximizing the value of the team’s work by removing impediments and maintaining focus.
In every project, there is a tension between speed and quality, and often these elements are at odds. Teams have to choose between the speed or quality of their throughput. The roles of the Product Owner and Scrum Master capture this tension, striking a balance that delivers a timely, quality product.
Here’s the WHY: agile purposefully creates this tension. The Product Owner advocates for the deliverable; the Scrum Master advocates for the team. There is no consensus without dissent, and the dissent built into the agile framework ensures a consensus between the competing demands of immediacy and quality.
You’ll notice, in this example, that the WHY is subtle. It simply looks at two roles and understands the purpose for each of them, both individually and together. But their purpose, the WHY, is powerful. Maintaining the tension between throughput and quality ensures that an agile team continuously delivers a product that is valuable.
There are many examples of organizations finding the WHYs, but a fantastic example can be found in the way Spotify approaches an agile culture. Spotify, a tech company, started from the assumption that agile adds value. But they also embraced a key mindset: rules are a good start, but let’s break them when needed. This led Spotify to match its needs (autonomous squads, short term goals, and an enterprise-wide holistic product strategy) to the WHYs of agile (throughput vs quality, flexibility, consistency, autonomy, alignment) to create a truly unique structure of tribes, squads, chapters, and guilds.
These unique, overlapping structures don’t conform to any particular agile method, but point to the WHYs of agile as necessary predecessors. The result: a nimble organization and healthy culture that keeps pace with the ruthless, fast-paced competition of streaming music solutions.
Agile in Business: Case Studies
So far, we have discussed the concept of embracing agile elements in non-tech teams. Let’s look at a few examples of this concept in action.
The Lean Startup – Laundry Services in India
A current popular expression of these concepts can be found in the book, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Over the course of 300 pages, Ries walks the reader through a home-grown approach to agile adoption grounded in decades of direct and indirect (consulting) experience with entrepreneurs and startups.
Core principles of The Lean Startup include small slicing vision into minimum prototypes, testing those prototypes early and often, validating assumptions, and promoting a culture of constant adaptation and growth. These agile-adjacent methods are all implemented without any of the typical agile ceremonies or artifacts.
There are dozens of case studies in the book that demonstrate the WHYs in action. One example comes from a laundry service launched in India: Village Laundry Service (VLS). In 2009, VLS was poised to launch a low-cost modest-return laundry service in a virtually untapped market in India.
The company, however, paused to create small-scale experiments to validate product assumptions and zero-in on specific customer needs. They embraced a model of iterative testing and adaptation that allowed them to target a rollout that was specifically tailored to customer needs. This meant that, once scaled, VLS was sure that they were mass-producing a product that customers would actually buy.
National Insurance Provider – Accounting Team “Scrum”
An insurance provider engaged us to assist with an ERP implementation that would replace the general ledger that accounted for tens of billions of dollars in managed assets and revenues. In the organization, there was a Lean Center of Excellence that had been advocating for agile ceremonies across the organization for several years. However, the accounting department had not yet adopted any of these elements. Early in the project, the team decided to organize themselves into a scrum team, with all the usual ceremonies and artifacts.
Initially, the transition was difficult. The team consisted of financial analysts and operations managers, and no one had project experience (let alone a knowledge of scrum). The “scrum team” was also larger than recommended, with more than 15 people.
Over time, the team used the ceremonies to break down their activities into a series of WHYs. Daily standups helped illuminate blockers and inefficiencies, and sprint retrospectives allowed the team to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t. Before long, the team developed a rhythm to their work and were able to break out the scope into smaller slices that more efficiently made use of their resources. Additionally, they were able to quickly track and validate decisions made about the product, which allowed for quicker pivots that better met the needs of their internal stakeholders.
HR Job Posting – Introducing Small-Slicing to Recruiting
On November 20, 2019, TGG’s Tech Services Lead Matt Jamison presented to AgilePDX on the topic of adopting agile elements in non-development teams. To illustrate his ideas, he shared an example of applying agile to talent acquisition in an HR department, with regard to staffing practices.
The Problem Statement: the struggle to find and hire talented resources presents a series of constant hurdles. Even without complications, it is difficult to sort through the tides of resumes to find individuals who have the professional and cultural acumen needed for a particular situation.
But hiring does not occur in a vacuum, and complicating factors abound. Hiring teams struggle to match job postings to the continuously changing needs of their organization. Market factors like shifting regulations, emerging fields, and competitive innovation require constant adaptation to who or what an organization needs on their teams. On top of this, the company mission is regularly transitioning due to adaptations from corporate strategy and new products.
When hiring for a team, there is a need for agility. Despite this, overworked recruiters are often incapable of the continuous change that would empower them to hire better, faster, and smarter. Poll HR professionals and you will likely hear the same thing, “I’m not getting the right talent. It takes too long to get talent. How do I assess the growth of employees and allow for advancement? I don’t respond quickly enough to changes in my organization and market.”
Enter the Agile WHYs: how would an HR team look to agile to address some of their struggles? Start with the problems:
– There is too much to change and not enough time to adapt
– Changes in job descriptions require a lengthy approval process
Looking at these problems, several agile WHYs start to jump out in response:
– Vertical slicing deliverables into bite-sized stories
– Sprint structure allows for near-term pivots on vertical slices
– Empowering team members to problem solve allows for quicker creative solutions
– Iteration on pain points or strengths allows for continuous improvement
An HR team embracing these WHYs wouldn’t have to embrace a full scrum adoption to realize their benefit. They could small-slice a job description, looking at components of a specific description instead of the whole thing. They could explore ways that recruiters could update parts of job descriptions in a quicker manner without needing full bureaucratic and legal review involved with a new job post. They could collect user stories from teams with upcoming resourcing needs instead of a list of qualifications and specific experience, empowering recruiters to be more creative in finding the right fit.
By embracing the WHYs of agile, teams can borrow the best parts of the methods and ceremonies to foster agility. And by doing so, they are living up to the core principles of agile, putting individuals and interactions before processes and tools.
We want to close this paper by reiterating a key point that is foundational to adopting agile in new environments: don’t do agile for agile’s sake. If either managers or direct reports fail to understand the reason why they are making a change, then that change is destined to fail. Do not embrace agile just because it’s trending in high-dollar markets.
There are good reasons for the successful outcomes of agile—a successful adoption requires an understanding of these reasons first. After witnessing successes and failures in the market around us, we firmly believe that a team must understand the WHYs of embracing agile methods before jumping in.
More about Matt Jamison:
Matt is an experienced solutions architect with a results-oriented understanding of the intersection between reality and architectural theory. He has the ability to plan, develop, and implement large-scale projects while maintaining impeccable attention to detail. With 20 years of functional information technology experience, Matt has end-to-end IT knowledge from layer 1 networking to application API interaction. An expert in mapping technology solutions to business needs, Matt is also able to conform to required regulations while maintaining IT best practices. Matt’s experience spans multiple industries, including healthcare, telecommunications, and security and software. He is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect. Outside of work, Matt enjoys the outdoors and all things bike-related.
More about Josh Bathon:
Josh is a creative problem solver with experience in project management and process improvement. Josh thrives in situations that challenge him to learn quickly and adapt to new environments. Leveraging his unique background in seminary formation, Josh brings emotional intelligence and self-knowledge to his interactions to build lasting, goal-oriented relationships. Josh has experience in healthcare IT, primary education administration, and non-profit service, environments in which he has developed a team-oriented leadership style geared toward high-performance outcomes. Josh holds a Bachelors in Philosophy and History from the University of Notre Dame. When he’s not working, Josh loves to read fiction and philosophy, as well as explore the cuisine and quirks of the Portland Area with his wife.
REFLECTIONS ON CHANGE MANAGEMENT IN UNCERTAIN TIMES
The Gunter Group hosted the ACMP Pacific Northwest chapter’s monthly Coffee Chats in April, May, and June. Just as everyone was figuring out how to deal with so many things changing, we facilitated a three-part webinar series entitled ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’. The conversations were timely but the change lessons we learned are timeless.
Afterward we sat down with our host, Stephen Bacon, to get his perspective on how to navigate through large-scale change.
In case you missed the webinar series, you can view replays here:
Part 1: How Things Have Been Disrupted
Part 2: How We Are Adapting
Part 3: What We Are Learning
More about Stephen Bacon:
Stephen is passionate about understanding the overarching strategic goals of an organization and leading the changes that are so often necessary to implement those strategies. His expertise is managing strategy and change projects across a variety of organizations. Stephen has spent twenty years leading initiatives at Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions and not-for-profits in the education services, technology, financial services, consumer products, and healthcare industries, including extensive international experience. Stephen is a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), holds a green belt in Six Sigma, and is accredited in various psychometric assessments (MBTI, ESCI, NBI). He holds a B.S. in finance and marketing from Boston College and an M.A. in organizational psychology from Columbia University. In addition to his service on not-for-profit boards, Stephen has three young children and a chocolate lab. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.
REFLECTIONS ON CHANGE MANAGEMENT IN UNCERTAIN TIMES: PART THREE
Part 3 (of 3): What will we carry forward?
We completed the last session of our series with ACMP Pacific Northwest — ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’. Thank you again to ACMP for the opportunity to facilitate this important conversation.
Part 1 of the series was about how things have been disrupted, Part 2 was about how we are adapting, and in Part 3 we had a very open conversation about what we are learning.
This conversation was very candid and we highly encourage you to watch the replay. Some highlights of our discussion were around
– The importance of vulnerability and connection during this time
– Staying curious and humble in our learnings
– Not attempting to continue business “as usual”
– Creating new normals in our work environments
– Being a present listener and practicing empathy
A replay of our June discussion is now available and we encourage you to listen in on this collaborative information sharing!
The Gunter Group
TGG FACILITATED APPLIED AGILE PANEL DISCUSSION
A few weeks ago, The Gunter Group facilitated a panel discussion at one of our clients (a global footwear and apparel company), which focused on Agile methodology application within their organization.
We would like to share a few key topics from the discussion.
1 — Implementing an Admin Week for Scrum Team Efficiency
One panel participant shared the story of her team iterating on ways to improve development velocity. They were having the common issue of missing sprint target dates and discussed the problem during a retrospective. Together, the team realized that between meeting schedules and “shoulder taps” for side work, they just didn’t have enough focused development time.
Initially the team implemented a block of time from morning until 1pm for dedicated development. While that did increase velocity, they still weren’t where they wanted to be.
Finally, they landed on a concept to implement an “Admin Week”. They decreased their sprints from 3 weeks to 2 and added in 1 week for admin time. This gave the team 2 weeks of uninterrupted development and 1 week to sprinkle in all of their administrative work such as meetings, ceremonies, idea brainstorming, internal documentation, mentoring, and training.
This shift resulted in a 36% increase in velocity and 36% decrease in duration of stories from “ready” to “complete”.
2 — Mitigating Discomfort Around Uncertainty
Another panel participant, an Agile Coach within our client’s organization, shared his thoughts around building comfort with uncertainty.
With the timely example of COVID-19’s highly impactful effects on businesses’ roadmaps, we discussed how important it is–now more than ever–to strengthen the ability to navigate uncertainty, with an agile mindset.
Participants agreed that we are seeing executives embrace agile thinking in their ability to pivot quickly and react as efficiently as possible. Work is being prioritized more clearly and decisions are being made at the “last responsible moment.”
3 — Servant Leadership in an Agile Framework
Lastly, our third panel speaker shared his perspective on leading in a Scrum Master role with a servant leadership approach.
This perspective emphasized the importance of maintaining a people focus in agile environments. Rather than just focusing on scope, schedule, budget–the servant leadership approach enables and promotes leadership in others.
He shared his experience about working with Scrum teams in this manner and how it has built relationships, garnered trust, and fostered growth within the team.
It also sets up the team for a safe environment during sprint retrospectives so that they are able to share thoughts and feedback more openly and from a place of assuming positive intent.
At The Gunter Group, we thrive on helping our clients by facilitating conversations such as this one and invite you to reach out if you are interested in TGG hosting something similar within your organization. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more.
To those who attended the panel discussion outlined above, thank you so much for your participation and we look forward to seeing you at the next one on June 24th!
TGG HOSTS ACMP’S JUNE COFFEE CHAT
On June 12th, we’ll wrap up our three-part series around ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’ with ACMP Pacific Northwest.
In April, we discussed what has been disrupted due to COVID-19. In May, we discussed how we are adapting to the changes. In June, we’ll look ahead to what we will carry forward.
This month, we look forward to discussing questions like:
– What has forever changed in the way we work?
– What DON’T we want to go “back to normal?”
– What will the “new normal” look like?
We encourage you to consider these topics ahead of time as this will be an interactive discussion.
REGISTER NOW to join us on June 12th at 9am PDT as we finish out this series!
REFLECTIONS ON CHANGE MANAGEMENT IN UNCERTAIN TIMES: PART TWO
Part 2 (of 3): How are we adapting
We hope you are enjoying our series around ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’. Thank you to ACMP Pacific Northwest for the opportunity to facilitate this important conversation.
During our Part 1 discussion in April, we talked about how things have been disrupted and you can view a reply of that conversation here.
In Part 2, this month, we discussed how we are adapting and some key learnings out of our conversation were:
– We’re moving beyond the “how are you” platitudes
– Video call fatigue is real and we are navigating that together
– Communicating more than you think you need to is probably the right amount
– We are seeing more agile thinking from leaders
– It’s not a given that we will learn from this—we need to keep talking about it
A replay of our May discussion is now available and we encourage you to listen in on this collaborative information sharing!
Be sure to join us for the last conversation of the series (Part 3, June 12th @ 9AM PDT) when we’ll discuss what we are carrying forward. Watch Now
The Gunter Group
LEADING THROUGH CRISIS, OUR VETERANS’ PERSPECTIVE
At The Gunter Group, we are fortunate to have several military veterans on our team who have deep experience leading in times of crisis. They sat down with one of our consultants, Laura Emily, for a conversation about how they are leaning on their backgrounds in the service to navigate our current environment.
We invite you to join us for this rich discussion on the parallels between leading in a warzone or humanitarian environment and leading in a business environment impacted by the coronavirus. Read on below to learn more about each speaker and the leadership topics they cover in the video.
Oregon Market Lead and Principal Consultant
Served 5 years as a Captain in the Air Force
Listen to Matt speak about “Balancing Compassion With Accomplishing a Mission
Matt’s passion and leadership purpose is all about helping teams reach their highest potential. He loves building and leading high-performing teams and seeing what can be accomplished when strong values, sound strategy, and a relentless commitment to execution collide. He is a trusted advisor that thrives on building lasting partnerships and driving high-quality solutions for clients. As a results-driven leader with more than 14 years of leadership, strategy, project management, and process improvement experience in a wide variety of complex environments, Matt brings a deep knowledge of implementing enterprise-wide transformations across people, process, and technology domains. He has built and led multifunctional teams to deliver successful solutions in a number of industries to include: retail, education, financial services, healthcare, and government. Matt graduated from the United States Air Force Academy with a B.S. in business management in 2006 and has certifications in program management, LEAN, and contract management. He has spent the majority of his academic, military, and consulting career studying and employing character-based leadership principles in challenging and ambiguous environments. Outside of being a loving husband and father, Matt enjoys the intersection of all things hockey, heavy metal, fitness, and beer.
Northern Nevada Market Lead and Principal Consultant
Served 4 years as a Lieutenant in the Navy
Listen to Tony speak about “Resiliency During Crisis”
Tony builds teams to support strategic change initiatives and helps leaders plan for highly impactful change. Thriving in the face of complex problems, he brings clarity to ambiguous situations and organizational questions. Leaders quickly come to trust Tony as a partner in making their tough decisions. A former Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy, Tony’s leadership and management philosophy is tempered by a career of bringing calm and planning to high-impact, high-stress scenarios. His track record of success in defining and overcoming challenges in demanding environments has led to consistent portrayals of him as an outstanding manager and a leader among his peers. His skill set is under-girded by his formal education in the Humanities, holding a Bachelors Honors degree in both philosophy and theology from the University of Notre Dame. In addition to an aggressive reading habit, Tony is deeply interested in everything that the Sierra Nevada mountains have to offer. Sun, snow, backpacking, and skiing all keep him, his wife, and kids busy in their free time.
Served 6 years as a Captain in the Air Force
Listen to Noah speak about “Maintaining Confidence, Connection, and Healthy Habits”
Noah has a clear record of success in driving strategic initiatives across a broad spectrum of industries and business functions. Curious by nature, Noah is able to quickly develop a deep understanding of business problems, develop structured plans, and manage teams to deliver positive results. Noah’s professional experience includes work in government, IT, finance, insurance, manufacturing, construction, health care, education, and international business. He holds a M.B.A from the University of Colorado and a B.S. in meteorology from the U.S. Air Force Academy. Outside of work, Noah spends more time than he should cycling around Oregon.
Account Lead and Senior Consultant
Served 7 years active duty and 3 years in the reserves as a Major in the Marine Corps
Listen to Joe speak about “Maintaining Momentum”
Joseph thrives in digital product and marketing management because of his affinity for analytics and the relative immediacy of data-driven change. Whether managing a host of agencies, internal teams or directly implementing strategies and tactics, he has a wealth of experience bringing products and projects to market. Joseph has more than 15 years experience leading teams, serving in product management, marketing, commercial operations and other roles in the consumer, pharma, life science and technology industries. Whether leading startups to profitable operations or managing multi-million dollar omni-channel marketing budgets, Joseph has demonstrated a path to success, regardless of scale. He earned an M.B.A in marketing from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Outside of work, Joe is manifesting patience and unconditional love with his two teenage children. On weekends, look for Joseph in the backcountry of the Cascades, cooking for a cycling camp or racing cyclocross.
Account Lead and Senior Consultant
Served 5.5 years as a Captain in the Army
Listen to Jim speak about “Building Your Team”
Jim’s collaborative, servant leader approach has earned him the reputation of being a problem solver who consistently gets things done. He has the unique ability to marry tactical actions with strategic outcomes. Jim’s experience spans across multiple industries including military, high tech manufacturing, eCommerce and health care sectors. His areas of expertise are program management, software and new product development, process improvement, and communications strategy. Jim holds an M.B.A. from the University of Portland, an M.A. in human relations from the University of Oklahoma, and a B.A. in political science from Youngstown State University. He is also a Scrum Master and Scaled Agile (SAFe) 4.0 certified.
5 TRAITS TO LOOK FOR WHEN RESOURCING CRITICAL, QUICK TURN PROJECTS
Hiring the right people takes time, the right questions, and a healthy dose of curiosity. What are the most important traits to move critical work forward? How about if you don’t have the luxury of time? And what if the need is short term in nature?
If this sounds familiar, then you may have a critical, quick turn project.
Recently, The Gunter Group worked with a regional healthcare insurance company on the roles necessary to help the company contend with business impacts of the coronavirus.
While the origin of our current collective disruption is uncommon (a pandemic), the business need for resourcing quick turn projects is familiar.
Whether you’re faced with a crisis now, or looking to be prepared for the future, check out these 5 traits that keep organizations moving forward in critical, quick turn projects.
1. Work Horizontally & Vertically. Disruption knows no boundaries. Leaders who can bridge communication gaps both horizontally and vertically within an organization will break down barriers and drive focus. Consider a generalist who can bring a holistic perspective.
2. Ramp Up Quickly: Uncertainty creates a vortex of need. Seek people who love learning. People accustomed to diving into new disciplines are skilled at the process of learning and can move from beginner to expert (or close to it!) at a rapid pace.
3. Navigate Ambiguity. Projects that surface quickly are usually highly ambiguous. Seek people who are energized by the unknown. They have confidence from years of working in uncharted territory to know that they are capable of figuring things out.
4. Embrace Your Culture: Your culture is the key to “how things get done around here” and when time is limited, it is important to have someone who can adapt quickly. Whether considering internal or external support, ensure they have chameleon-like qualities to reflect your company and departmental norms.
5. Tailored Solutions. Solutions need to make sense for your company and situation. Prioritize tailored approaches over cookie cutter solutions.
To illustrate, let’s return to the regional healthcare insurance company’s situation.
As a result of COVID-19, a high volume of government mandates had major impacts throughout the organization. To respond, a centralized task force was organized to assess impact, disseminate information, and ensure timely resolution. For efficiency, the task force formed a hub and spoke model assigning each business area a single point of contact to interface with the task force.
Due to urgency, short-term nature of work, and lack of internal resources, priority was given to onboarding a consultant who could roll up her sleeves and be successful in an ambiguous, urgent, and ever-changing environment as an interface between their task force and critical business functions.
Critical, quick turn projects are a constant as organizations frequently experience disruption whether by instigating or reacting to circumstances. A strong project leader with these 5 traits will help teams navigate uncertainty while achieving desired outcomes. Check out a couple case studies to see how we successfully partner with our clients to help them navigate challenges and drive toward solutions.
A LETTER FROM OUR FOUNDING PARTNER
I founded The Gunter Group in 2011. Like many people that start companies, one of my primary motivators was to create an organization that could reflect my own values and interests. Integrity, trust, service to clients, authenticity, transparency, leadership…all of those were (and are) important to me.
Many people that joined TGG early on are still with the company almost nine years later, and have been joined by many more talented, energetic, and awesome people. On my team, not only do I know the TGGers, I know their spouses, partners and significant others, kids (many since they were born), and a bunch of pets. That’s the way I always wanted it, and I have always felt a strong sense of responsibility for my team.
We have built an incredible group, we have the privilege of serving a wonderful group of client organizations, and we are deeply committed to supporting the communities in which we work. We have built TGG into a sustainable company with a solid foundation and we had a great start to 2020.
And then, COVID-19 happened. The universe saw things differently.
As I write this, we are completing our seventh full week of stay-at-home orders and 100% remote working. Now that some of the initial adjustment shock has worn off, I have spent some time reflecting on our purpose as an organization, the actions we have taken, and some of what may lie ahead.
First, what brings us TGGers together is a shared purpose: we exist to help our team, clients, and communities thrive. The mechanism that gives us the means to achieve our purpose is our company, and we need to survive current circumstances and come out the other side intact for us to continue to be of service. We have taken several steps to ensure the continuity of our business. We applied for the SBA Paycheck Protection Plan loan, and ensured our line of credit was up to date. We signed up for regular communications and updates with government officials in our markets. We formed a COVID-19 focused subgroup within our leadership team, are constantly sharing and discussing information we see, and forming our action plan for going forward. 20% of TGG team members are veterans, and we are leaning on their experience leading in times of crisis (we will share those experiences in an upcoming video).
Second, we have focused on the health and well-being of our team. Transparency is important to us and we have been radically transparent with our team about what we are doing. We have increased communication significantly, and have weekly all-company video calls in addition to written updates. Our leaders have stepped up the frequency of 1:1 meetings with the people on their teams. We have virtual happy hours to keep everyone across the company connected.
Third, we have doubled down on client service. It goes without saying that our clients are our lifeblood and serving them well is what we do best. Some of our client companies are struggling, and it has been painful to experience that with them—they are our colleagues and friends. We have gotten creative wherever we could to ensure continuity of work, working alongside our client teams. We have shared our own experiences in dealing with things like working remotely and in being adaptable wherever helpful. One of our senior consultants recently joined a client team to manage workstreams in their centralized task force setup to manage COVID-19 response efforts.
Fourth, we are considering what comes next. We are thinking deeply about our services, how they are delivered, and what will be most impactful in the future. We are sharing best practices for working in a more digitized world with our clients and networks. We are deepening several of our partnerships with other firms. We are continuing to recruit and look for exceptional talent to join our company when the time is right. In short, we are trying to straddle the line between being realistic about the uncertainty of our current circumstances, but yet remaining optimistic and hopeful about working our way through it.
There is tremendous uncertainty regarding what happens in the next few months, and beyond. I do not believe we will quickly get back to what used to be normal as soon as we start to reopen. I think there will be a slow transition back to something that seems more normal than the circumstances in which we currently find ourselves, but there will be lasting impacts on how we get work done. I think there will be a lot more remote working, video calls, and less travel. There will be more distributed teams. Leaders need to be ready to help people make the transition and be compassionate in their support. For those of us with kids, there will continue to be disruption in childcare and education, and that will reverberate into the workplace. Flexible arrangements will not only be a benefit, they will be necessary.
But there are silver linings in what we have learned. As contrary to inclination as it sounds, our team is communicating with each other better than ever, and in a deeper, more productive way. We are strengthening our most important relationships in our networks outside the company with our clients, partners, and communities because we are working together more closely than ever. And we are not the only ones: we recently conducted a survey and facilitated a webinar on change management in uncertain times in which 70% of respondents said many of their relationships have been strengthened in the last six weeks. I have found it has been helpful just having people in your network to talk to and understand shared experiences.
As we navigate our way through the circumstances caused by COVID-19, we remain focused on our shared purpose as an organization: to work so that our team, our clients, and our communities thrive. Our core values at TGG—honesty, integrity, radical transparency, ability to thrive in ambiguity, taking care of each other—are the pillars on which we lean to navigate through uncertainty. The pillars are more important now than ever. No one has all the answers right now, but whether you are facing a critical moment today or not, we would love to talk to you about our experiences and how our team might help. We remain ready to serve.
Mike is passionate about client service and leading people. He enjoys watching people grow, develop, and discover their true path. Mike is a visionary and forward thinker with extensive multinational experience and a proven track record of serving clients. With more than 25 years of business leadership and consulting in a wide variety of challenging and ambiguous environments, Mike got his start in the industry at Deloitte Consulting and has since held executive leadership positions in consulting, supply chain services, and public education organizations.