Agile for Business: A Guide to Effective Talent Strategies

May 14, 2019 Alysha Khan

Agile has seeped into every business department and function, from software development to HR and marketing. After all, what business doesn’t want to be fast-moving, customer-focused, and easily adaptable?

But while everyone wants to be agile, very few know how to actually get there. Here at Business Talent Group (BTG), we often field requests for talent to support agile initiatives. That’s exciting, because we built our business around the idea of helping companies boost organizational agility, and agile methods are a great way to get started. It’s also challenging. While there’s a long, established body of theory and practice around using agile in software development, agile for business is relatively new, which means that methodologies are still in flux. That makes it difficult to source agile talent, let alone to define what success looks like.

To cut through the noise, we’ll unpack the insights we’ve gained from our experience supporting clients’ agile transformations and initiatives—and outline what you can and can’t expect to accomplish through the independent marketplace.

Finding Agile Talent is Hard

No matter where you turn, demand for agile coaches and scrum masters is high. Many companies have already launched agile pilots or successfully deployed agile methods within specific parts of the business. As executives look to scale these initiatives, they often assume they’ll need a big influx of agile talent to execute.

But sourcing these skills is proving to be challenging, for two reasons:

  • There simply isn’t a large pool of trained agile coaching/scrum master qualification in the US, which proves especially problematic since a lot of the work often must be completed on-site.
  • Industry standards are still fluid and certifications easy to come by, which makes vetting candidates challenging.

After all, it’s one thing to look for an agile coach or two to support a specific initiative. BTG has helped clients design effective governance structures to support agile pilots and guide cross-functional communication between software engineering, marketing, operations, and management teams during the development of a new app. Similarly, on-demand talent can be a great source for support around specific pieces of an agile transformation, from change management to workforce planning to the restructuring of a specific department.

But underlying these sourcing issues is a fundamental truth we’ve uncovered in working with our clients—the brute-force approach to transforming your existing company into an agile organization simply does not work. Or put more simply, you cannot hire your way to true agility, and attempting such an approach is deeply un-agile to begin with.

The Reality of Implementing Agile for Business

So how should companies staff agile transformations and pilots? There are a number of different routes available, but the most successful one we’ve found starts by deploying independent agile experts to create a long-term strategy. Then, you can start training internal teams on agile methodologies and best practices.

After all, the independent talent marketplace is very competitive, and as a result of the high demand for experienced agile strategists, many of the best people are independent.

Additionally, using independent talent to craft a strategy provides the company with a practical design at the outset that’s customized to their organization. It also offers informed help completing the transformation and a guarantee that all homegrown talent will operate using the same methodologies.

Independent agile transformation expert Nathan Gampel advocates a similar approach in his own practice.

“At the end of the day, you have to train people to think agile, and you have to train your organization to think agile, and you have to have someone embedded that helps the organization develop in that way,” said Gampel.

According to Gampel, to give an organization the best chance at transformation, it’s best to begin with a senior, centralized resource who can plan and then coordinate how the transformation is rolled out. Then, rather than jumping in head first with a team of many, begin small with a pilot program. By using the right lead and rolling out in a controlled manner, organizations can tailor their approach to guarantee a more successful adoption of agile methodologies.

When John Deere, the farm equipment company, undertook their agile transformation, they deployed a similar approach. After several years of nurturing agile in their IT department, the firm brought in an external resource to help translate the tech-heavy terminology into concepts the entire firm could understand. Then, they began training and deploying agile coaches to support the organization’s transformation.

Now, the organization reports that “almost every area at John Deere someone is either starting to use agile or thinking about how it could be used.”

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About the Author

Alysha Khan is Business Talent Group's Demand Generation and Marketing Automation Manager. She brings to the team a diverse background in marketing, communications, and design across multiple industries as well as a love of learning new things every day.

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