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Stealth Agile

I recently connected with Tyrrell Basson from the University of Manchester in one of my ‘Ask me Anything’ one-to-one video conversations.

Like most organisations, they are dealing with disruption on a biblical scale (Brexit, Covid-19) on top of industry-specific disruption and innovation.

A University is an incredibly dynamic environment that requires a balance between rapid innovation and reinvention, with the need for strong execution in legacy services and systems.

The customers and faculty are incredibly diverse and represent the whole spectrum in the Bass Diffusion Model, from Innovators to Laggards.

All in the same interdependent ecosystem. All at the same moment in time.

Diffusion of Ideas by Rogers
Rogers Everett

Whilst the Innovators and Early Adopters want rapid change and an Agile organisation that is responsive to their student needs and/or respective faculty departments, the late majority and laggards want things to stay as they were.

As they have always been.

An IT Business Unit in a university serves both the students and the faculty. Both groups are their customers. Both groups are stakeholders. And both groups have significant power and influence.

How do you honour the traditional, legacy-driven ‘ways of doing things’ unique to Red Brick Universities whilst embodying what it means to be at the cutting edge of learning, research & development, and a dynamic incubator that prepares the future leadership of the global economy?

Stealth Agile

‘Agile Transformation’ and ‘Going Agile’ are great when you have the entire leadership on board, a solid commitment from the entire organisation to embrace Business Agility, and all the bells and whistles necessary to support and sustain such an enormous organisational shift.

What if you don’t?

Enter ‘Stealth Agile’.

Things go wrong. Often. You have to deal with them.
Your value lies in delivering the most valuable outcomes, regardless of the challenges you face.

That’s the problem. Therein lies the opportunity.

If you’re a student and a need is solved. You’re happy. If you’re a 65-year-old professor deeply in love with a legacy that stretches back to the middle ages. You’re equally happy when a need is solved.

The outcome produces joy, not the methodology.

Innovators love evidence; they just don’t get caught up in the need for it upfront. Laggards love evidence, and they are caught up in the need for it upfront.

Evidence that something works make both camps happy despite them being on the extreme opposites of the Bass Diffusion Model spectrum.

Evidence is key.

For people. For governance. For compliance.

Working on the most valuable outcomes, in the right way, in short sprints that deliver tangible, high-value outcomes at the end of every sprint, is an ‘evidence’ factory.

Granted, you can’t implement this across the entire organisation overnight. Still, you can set up a small team in a ‘high-value outcomes’ area and start to tackle the highest-value work in a way that consistently and continuously produces outcomes that delight customers and stakeholders.

A team of professors may value 50 things.

It takes 18 months to deliver all 50 things. 5 of those things represent 80% of the value whilst the remaining 45 represent the final 20% of the value.

The five highest-value things take three months to deliver; the remaining 45 take 15 months to deliver.

A happy professor is someone who has the five things that represent 80% of the value in 3 months. An unhappy professor is someone who has five things that represents 5% of the value in 3 months.

The unhappy professors are people who insert themselves into every committee meeting and insist on being at multiple stakeholder meetings so that they can do battle with the other departments for resources and priority.

The happy professors are busy working on all the great things that advance prestige and value to the University, their students, and their own careers. They aren’t at stakeholder meetings. They don’t have time to waste on committees.

They do have time to send a Christmas card and Mulled Wine over to your team every year.

This principle applies from chancellors to business unit heads to students.

Evidence that the most valuable work is being delivered continuously, in short increments, makes everybody happy. The how becomes irrelevant.

Stealth Agile.