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Project management How does a company become agile?

Published on 24.11.2020 by Florian Thut, Head of Digital Product Management, Post CH Ltd

It is not easy to introduce agile project methods in a company that is run along traditional lines. What are the specific challenges? And how can apparent contradictions best be resolved?

Agile project methods such as scrum are seen as a potential response to an environment that is changing more and more rapidly. It’s therefore no surprise that even companies with traditional structures are launching agile process models and projects. However, these are subject to tensions and face numerous challenges and obstacles.

The “hard” and “soft” challenges...

I view strategy, structure and processes as “hard” factors. And problems in connection with agile methods often become very apparent here. In my experience, a hierarchy that is structured too steeply and is broken up into many functional silos is particularly prone to problems. This also applies to project-supporting processes that are not geared towards agile projects. There will also be projects within the company that are organized using traditional structures, but which are dependent on agile projects. These issues need to be worked through by management. The success of the project will also be put at risk if the organization is not consistently focused on the same strategic thrusts. That’s because different individual targets exist for the staff of an agile project.

Along with the “hard” factors, there are also “soft” factors which seem less pressing overall and also have a weaker impact on the success of the project. Nevertheless, these challenges also need to be resolved. The “soft” factors include a lack of function-specific methods-related competency, too little awareness of personal initiative, responsibility and collaboration in a team – and of course a predominant understanding by managers of their own role as a point of instruction and control.

… and the way to deal with them

The wide-ranging challenges listed above need to be overcome if agile projects are to be successful. Long-term change is required in traditional companies for this to happen. This goes far beyond structural changes. Rather, a comprehensive change process is needed that can be summed up by the phrase “agile transformation”. Unfortunately, no magic formula exists for cementing the new mindset in the corporate culture or for implementing the necessary structural changes. If the necessary backing from some decision-makers is present, it may be worthwhile in the medium-term challenging a traditional company with agile pilot projects from the bottom-up and accepting the conflicts that come with these. In line with the old adage “constant dripping wears away stone”, subsequent projects will benefit from the change that has been initiated.

Florian Thut, Head of Digital Product Management, Post CH Ltd

He is Head of Digital Product Management at the Digital Commerce Competence Center. In this role, he is responsible for the development of Swiss Post’s digital services.

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