Ep. 2: Agile Thinking


S?: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hello and welcome to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I am Toby Mildon, your host for today. And I’m joined by a fantastic guest, Andrew Jones, who is the Founder and Chief Executive of Agility in Mind. Andrew, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you on the show today.

Andrew Jones: Thank you very much, Toby, and it’s very good to see you and to talk to you.

TM: Brilliant. So Andrew, could you just introduce yourself, let us know about what your business does, how you got into your current line of work? 

AJ: Well, Agility in Mind is the business that I founded about 10 years ago, in fact, it’s our 10th anniversary coming up in the summer of this year.

TM: Cool, congratulations.

AJ: Well, thank you very much. We were gonna be celebrating but for obvious reasons, we might put that off for a little while. The thing that we do with the people that we work with, our clients, is we provide them with sort of consulting and training and coaching that helps them to improve the way that they’re working. The outcome that we’re looking for, we would call business agility is that’s the ability to respond to changes, for example, big changes that… Or the situation at the moment and across the world, how do we respond to things like that? Fortunately, we don’t have to respond to big things all the time, but we should always be inspecting and adapting our organisations to make them better. And I got into it really because I’d spent a lot of time in the software industry and discovered quite a lot of challenges, especially developing and delivering complex systems to clients. And I was always looking for a better way of doing that and I discovered Agile ways of working.

AJ: And so to cut a long storey short, I sort of set up Agility in Mind really to take that Agile way of working into organisations. And I do remember, really, right back then, that the message really was about… This is about people as individuals, not about people as resources in an organisation. And to try to remind people that that is what we do and that we have moved on a long way since the industrial revolution, we’ve moved a long way since then and what we should really be doing is thinking about people and about how they work together.

TM: Brilliant, thank you. So what is Agile? 

AJ: Well, do you know what? We ask this question when we recruit people and that recruitment process, actually, is one that should be a lot more inclusive for people. But one of the questions that we ask in a little video interview is what is Agile? And so we do get, even from sort of experts in the industry that want to join us, we do get sort of varying responses to it. The way that I like to think about it, it is a set of principles. It’s really summarised in something that’s called the Agile Manifesto and that’s really just four items which tells you where you should put the emphasis in when you’re trying to get teams of people working together. What’s happened over time is that that manifesto which is around people working together and their interactions, it’s been turned into certain frameworks that get used that are a little bit more structured in their approach. But ultimately, it’s finding ways to get people to collaborate against common goals, whether that’s down at a team level, or whether it’s at a product level, or a business level, but it’s getting people to collaborate against common goals and coming up with sort of artefacts.

AJ: So things that they produce and they use when they’re doing that, events, those are the things that bring them together in a structured way and sort of, I suppose, small bits of process that help them to figure out how they should be working together in a consistent way. So it can get more complex than that but it shouldn’t be other than getting people working together, it’s quite a complex thing because it’s such a diversity of people out there and we’ve all got different perspectives and trying to get lots of different perspectives together against a common goal is the real challenge.

TM: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been using Agile working for a very long time. In fact, you and I met when I was working at the BBC, I was an Agile Project Manager in software development, I was working on projects like the redevelopment of the BBC News website and the development of the iPlayer, radio app, and things like that. And it is a really great way to work. I mean, how does… So you mentioned the Agile Manifesto, I mean, how does the manifesto lend itself to inclusivity and helping organisations work in a much more inclusive way? 

AJ: Well, I would say the first line of the manifesto is it says that what we should do is to put more emphasis on individuals and interactions rather than process and tools. So if you looked at it from… If you just focused on process and tools, you start to make quite a lot of assumptions about the tools that people can use and the processes that they can engage in. So you start to make assumptions about how an individual might engage in an organisation and you tend to generalise around that. But however, if you put the emphasis on the other side, which is about individuals and interactions, you start to think that every single person that you bring together into a team with a common purpose has got that sort of individual outlook, personality, capability, challenges, whatever, but we are all unique.

AJ: And when we do that, we start to realise that the more we can get different perspectives in the things that we’re doing, the more effective we are going to be. Now I think it sets out the agenda or suppose the manifesto, but it sets out the agenda of how we should work. It perhaps doesn’t prescribe how you get perhaps past some of the challenges of making Agile working inclusive, for example. But I think it’s the starting point. And so we always remind people, when we first start talking to them about their, let’s say their Agile transformation that they might be interested in. We start to remind them that it’s not about the process and tools because you can do that in lots of ways. It’s about the people and about how they work together.

TM: Brilliant, I mean, this Inclusive Growth Show is for diversity and inclusion leaders, for HR directors, or C suite executives who are sponsoring diversity and inclusion within their organisation. So if they like the sound of Agile and their way of working, how can they start to apply Agile to the workplace to make it to make it more inclusive? 

AJ: I think that the starting point is really to understand what those underlying principles are. Some people do make the mistake of jumping into a particular framework. So if they were to research Agile, they might come across something like Scrum, for example, which has got a defined way of working, it’s got a defined, sort of effectively a defined process, defined roles, defined artefacts and events. And it’s great as a framework but what we would always do is take people back to what are the fundamental principles? So that’s where I would start. I would say, “Look, if we’re going to do this, let’s just make sure that we understand why we’re going to do it, what we’re gonna get out of it as an organisation, what the outcomes might be, how will the organisation be different?” And even if you start there down at a team level, how would it look in three months or six months time once we’ve adopted it? What is the difference that it’s going to make? And try to think past sort of the functional elements of that. Again, trying to think past things necessarily that are necessarily measurable right from the start. Try not to think too much about measuring, let’s say, the sort of key performance indicators. Let’s try not to do that. Let’s think about what would it look like and how will it feel for people across our organisation, or people that we want to bring into our organisation? How will it be different for us because we’re starting to apply these principles? 

TM: That’s brilliant, that’s really great advice. So if an organisation does apply Agile working and the Agile principles, and manifesto in order to help it become more inclusive, what could they expect this to look like on a day to day basis? 

AJ: I think on a day to day basis some, what we should start to see is that sort of certainly, teams of people that are working against common outcomes or goals are starting to collaborate and they’re talking together on a daily basis about what will help them to get there. So, for example, at the start of the day, they could be getting together and say, “Look, these are the things that I did yesterday. I have achieved this and I know that it’s aligned with what we’re trying to achieve. I’m gonna do this today because I know that it’s aligned with what we’re trying to achieve.” Or it could be, “I want to achieve this but I’ve got this obstacle in the way, who can help and who can take this beyond the team?” So once you start to get those sorts of conversations in place and you can stand and listen to the conversations, you start to realise that it’s now not just a bunch of individuals, but you’ve got a group of people who are using each other’s skills and I suppose respecting each other’s different contributions to achieving those overall goals. As opposed to just seeing them as functional contributors to a process.

TM: That’s brilliant. So I actually interviewed you in my book, Inclusive Growth, in the chapter called Colleague Experience and Design and this chapter’s really based on the principle that organisations should stop trying to fix individuals but try to fix the business processes or the cultures that are holding people back. So, for example, what I see with a lot of my clients is that businesses will create a programme like women in leadership, for example, and it’s all about trying to fix the individual, putting them through mentoring, pairing them up with a mentor, but not really looking at the things that could be holding them back like a culture of presenteeism, for example, and expecting people to work late hours and things like that. So one thing in the chapter that you and I talked about was about how we can use Agile as a way of redesigning processes and systems that do hold people back. And in summary, how would we use Agile to achieve that? 

AJ: So we’ve been talking about sort of processes and systems. One of the things that we like to do when we work with a team of people is to get them to map out, to draw up, not with any fancy tools but just to map out, what it is to complete a piece of work and what are the steps that they go through and what are the contributions that they make at each of those individual steps? And what we do is to figure out and get the team to figure out what that process is today. The next step is the crucial thing though is, “Right, how do we want it to be? What is going to work for us as a group of people, as a group of individuals that are coming together as a team?” And then we get them to say well, actually we could improve that bit. That works fine. What we really… We always get stuck here because we don’t have the right skills, whatever it might be. And immediately it starts to become an inclusive process because people are seeing things from different perspectives. They’ll see it from the perspective of different practitioners, but they’re also seeing it from the perspective of individuals. So that’s a really nice, nice way to get people to think about the process of work if you like.

TM: So this is the Inclusive Growth Show. It’s all about how businesses can grow by being more diverse and more inclusive. I think this is a… We’re recording this episode. Just we haven’t even reached the peak of the pandemic in the UK with the coronavirus. And I think when organisations go back to work, diversity and inclusion is going to play a really crucial part in enabling those businesses to grow and bounce back from the economic crisis as well as the health crisis that we’re finding in. So from your perspective, how do you think greater inclusivity helps businesses grow and in particular, how does it help your business grow, Agility in Mind? 

AJ: I think what we recognise is that to be… Well, first of all, to be an effective business, you can’t treat your customers as if they’re all a generic sort of prototype of the other person. And what we have to do is to understand that the more that we understand about our customers and about the way they work, the better. So because we work with lots of different people in organisations, we can’t, for example, categorise some people into being the difficult people. And when someone says that to me, I’ll say, “Well, the interesting thing about those difficult people is they’ll probably say that you’re the difficult person.” And the thing is that there are different perspectives on that, and so it depends on whose viewpoint. So I think for us, recognising that there is that diversity of thought, of interaction, of preference, of ability, and disability, and challenges, and once you recognise that, you can engage better.

AJ: So that’s why it’s important for us to recognise having that sort of diversity and inclusion within the organisation. I think to me it’s just common sense, really. Why would you, say, exclude people because of the processes and the facilities and the culture that you’ve created organisation? Why would you exclude or prejudice skills from people who can make a big contribution? And it’s true, anybody, as they go through that sort of whole… The various changes in their life, in their careers, their circumstances change. It’s very easy to write off men in their 50s as being, you know, just waiting for retirement, for example. And it will be a… I’d find that quite resentful if people started to say that about me, because we’ve got a contribution to make.

AJ: Yeah, it’s making sure that we are using the skills and the capabilities of people all the way through that lifecycle as things change in their lives, as things change in their careers. They want to put emphasis in different places, for example. Or there might be an illness that holds them up in their career and it has an impact on their mobility, for example, and there might be an accident that does that. So recognising that things change for people and we don’t just stay the same.

TM: That’s brilliant, excellent. Thanks, Andrew, I think that’s a great note for us to finish on. Andrew, thank you ever so much for joining me on the show today. And Andrew, before we go, how is the best way for people to get in touch with you if they want to talk to you about applying Agile principles to their own businesses? 

AJ: So you can either search Agility In Mind and we will pop up in your browser, or you can email me on andrew@agility.im.

TM: Brilliant. Thanks, Andrew, and thank you for listening to today’s episode of the Inclusive Growth Show and I look forward to seeing you at the next episode. Thank you very much.


S?: Thank you for listening to Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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