It Takes More Than Tools to be Agile

It Takes More Than Tools to be Agile

Once I had a job where my primary mission was to properly implement the usage of a CRM they had acquired some months ago. Would you guess which was the most challenging part? It was not to develop a functional data structure, integrate it with other platforms, or customize its properties. It was not training and onboarding new users either…

The real issue was understanding the marketing & sales workflows, giving them a structure prone to scalability, and adapting the CRM. It meant talking with many people, sketching several flow diagrams, getting access to various platforms to gather data, and understanding how different teams would use the tool. Most of that work happened outside of it.

Topics to check

  1. People + tools
  2. Manage resistance to change
  3. Missing the “sticky world”
  4. A lightweight toolbox

People + tools

We could summarize the last paragraph with the Agile Manifesto's first value: "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools." In a post-pandemic world where we are all dependent on telecommunications and intelligent devices to perform several jobs, the correct interpretation of that idea is to remember that using a tool is not a purpose in itself, but a way to reach your goals faster.

Going back to the past job anecdote, there was a recurrent weekly meeting with the tool's adviser, who was there to help the team get the most out of it. During one call, while we talked about integrating the tool with another platform to capture some data fields, he asked me why not keep all the data properties centralized in one single system that all teams could use. I could not answer clearly then, and I was unsure for some time after.

Now I can tell the reason: The teams were not really aligned. Yes, we all were working towards some common goals, but the tools, scheduling, deadlines, and KPIs were all over the place. Naturally, we needed to fix those organizational workflows first to efficiently use a platform or toolset that would improve them. At that time, the tools helped mold the company processes, but much more documentation and communication labor were needed.

Let these numbers, gathered by Signavio, further illustrate the point:

There you have a clear view of why it is vital to ponder people over processes and tools. It does not mean that one factor should weigh more than the other; it is more of a what came first? Where one facilitates or even fosters conditions for the other to happen. Clever work with a good arsenal is key to success.

Manage resistance to change

Not all goes easy peasy, though. The poll conducted by Signavio shows another exciting insight, if not the most striking: 81% of the surveyed persons would prefer their roles and responsibilities not to change, which definitely contrasts with the figures listed before. We could say that most people are eager to use new technologies but only to make their actual jobs easier. That could be an adoption challenge, as learning to use these tools may require doing things differently or could add up with documentation tasks.

Take for sure that resistance to change will happen one way or another, and you better be prepared. It is not necessarily going to be a pain; it all depends on how it is handled. Userlane did an interesting survey on their own and asked: Are you always happy about new software and innovations introduced at work?

Almost 42% of respondents answered with a Yes, while 39% said Yes, but only when there is a clear need for it. That lets our hypothesis evolve: Most people will not resist adopting new technologies and processes if they see value in them. While by itself it is not exactly a game-changer, if you anchor the adoption protocols inside your organization to that statement, chances are you can start mitigating resistance.

Based on conclusions from both studies, I propose you address these 4 points to guide your adoption process:

Reasons to use it - Go plain and straightforward: Understand the objective of using the tool, what it does and what it does not. Learn the value you get from it.

How to use it? - You need to agree and establish how you are going to use its features. Lacking this sure is a recipe for disaster.

When should it be used? - Tools cover specific needs in particular moments. There is clearly a difference in communicating through Slack compared to email. It is an agreement between all the folks using the tool.

Define the roles - Not everybody can be an admin: People should use the specific features to do their job and avoid multi-tasking. You surely need some specialists to aid in a general way, but you must clearly define your roles.

If you set the game's rules, veil for compliance, and do not skimp on resources to get your mates to fully understand the four mentioned principles, you should have smooth adoption flows.

Missing the “sticky world”

Whiteboards and sticky notes are a cornerstone in the business world, especially when thinking of Agile practices. Visualizing your workflows really pays, as it helps you keep everything in place and makes it easier to share your vision with others. That is why most digital project management tools include a Kanban-like board, with columns where cards are put depending on their working state.

The truth is that, after hybrid work came to stay, nobody should be thinking of physical spaces as the single or even the best solution for keeping people synced.

The President of Agile Rhythms, Eric Jaeger, shared with us some related thoughts a while ago. He has lots of experience coaching companies on their way to be more Agile, and he thinks that "No tool is gonna save everything… but we can't all live in a sticky world, a single room and everything is up on whatever board you are using…". Especially after hybrid models breakthrough, thinking of a whiteboard inside an office where all the team can physically gather every morning around sounds pretty anachronistic.

This is when online digital tools come into play. But be careful: Eric testifies that even while paying for tools that enable asynchronous communication for productivity, some teams choose to maintain inefficient processes, such as keeping meetings "just because one person does not want to log into a web tool." How many times have you been there? A meeting that could have been an email, a task on the board, or even a quick DM.

Would you like to hear the entire pieces of wisdom that Eric shared with us? Check out this video.

A lightweight toolbox

We are Homo Sapiens, descendants of the Homo Habilis, and we craft state-of-the-art tools to pave our way through the odds, no matter how challenging it can get. Eric and I support their usage as enhancers, but they never will replace human thinking. In fact, they need people to be innovative in using them; that is what the whole article is about.

The best tools are designed to be as easy-to-pick as possible, and some companies offer the assistance of a specialist that can help the customer get the most out of the platform based on his needs. Eric also addressed this point during the chat, suggesting to let the tool adviser do his job and try his suggestions on features usage, at least for the first three months. That way, you can see opportunities and customize the suggested framework.

You might be familiar with some apps developed by SoftwareDevTools, designed to help teams manage projects while being Agile. If you have had a chance to use them, it would be great to learn from your experience in the comments of our social media pages. If not, let me recommend you three excellent productivity-boosting tools:

Stand-Bot - A Slack-based bot that will save you time by automatically gathering the work status of all your teammates, even in different time zones, and saving it in history reports. Never miss any blocker with its help.

Try it on Slack.

Agile Retrospectives - This app integrates with Jira or Confluence and enhances your Retro sessions with an engaging and playful UX that is easy to use for everybody, letting all the team contribute with action item ideas and cast their votes in real-time.

Check it out here.

Freshdesk + Trello PowerUp - Take your customer service strategy to the next level with this add-on that fosters communication and contribution between your service and development teams. Its unique feature is to export Freshdesk tickets as Trello items, so you can follow-up them on your board.

Learn more here…

In the end, I think the key takeaway from this article is that tools represent a great way to solve issues, achieve better results and be more productive, but they are only as good as the people using them. And remember: There will always be some kind of resistance, but you are now ready to see it as a challenge rather than a failure.

Are you adopting or looking to improve your Agile practices? Is your team remote? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you should check out our products for distributed teams. We focus on making communication more effective and easier for remote teams.

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