Beyond our credit-meets-technology expertise, part of what differentiates Flying Phase from our competitors is how we attack clients’ problems. Yes, the results stand on their own, but the way in which we get there – iteratively and with a focus on incremental value – plays a huge role in shaping the end result.
Whether in internal projects, our recruiting and marketing efforts, or our client engagements, Flying Phase brings an Agile approach to everything we do. Though born in software development, Agile has deep applicability across all sorts of knowledge work and countless other disciplines. For us, Agile means we collaborate with our clients to prioritize our efforts and set goals in time-constrained sprints (our preferred interval is 2 weeks), allowing us to focus on delivering incremental results over the lifespan of a project.
Along the way, our clients have total visibility, and have the flexibility to pivot as we identify opportunities of greater potential, and even to jettison work that isn’t bringing maximum value.
And while this way of thinking is part of our organization’s DNA, we also recognize the impact of Agile within the consulting paradigm, empowering engagement teams and our client-side counterparts to deliver faster and more effectively.
Working Smarter and More Efficiently
Many consulting engagements tend to follow traditional Waterfall project management
, a linear approach aligned to several big milestone dates. In practice, this approach typically involves long and complicated project plans, work breakdown structures, and plenty of Gantt charts. These projects try to detail months or even years of work all up front – a very tall order.
In this more traditional model, consultants often present monthly dashboards, where clients learn if project elements are trending red, yellow, or green, and all stakeholders reiterate the next items in the roadmap. But those dashboards don’t really tell you how the work itself is delivering against intent. Even more, you largely have to wait until the project is completed to provide meaningful feedback or benefit from any new processes or updates.
This approach puts guardrails on the work, which can be a plus in that it keeps you moving forward in a straight line – but delivering to a plan does not support reprioritization or adjustment to direction based on business value and continued learning.
That’s where Agile comes in, bringing a focus on iteration, transparency and incremental value – and we believe our clients are better for it. We plan as best we can up front, deliver the next most important thing every 2 weeks, reassess our plan, and get back to work. If the next deliverable on the plan is still the most important, we tackle it. If the situation has changed, we align with the client to see if our plan should too.
Figure 1. Agile vs. Waterfall
Since its founding manifesto
in 2001, Agile has emphasized working deliverables, client collaboration and embracing change and iteration over adhering to a plan. Although conceived by software developers and thought leaders, Agile has been applied to everything from designing John Deere tractors to teaching middle-school history.
Like other methodologies, Agile comes with variations. Some teams prefer a Kanban style, which focuses on flow and efficiency to ensure small pieces of work are done effectively – not unlike a manufacturing plant. Our team embraces the Scrum framework with sprints that focus more on a structured approach to Plan, Do, Check, Act.
Figure 2. Our Scrum Framework
We start with our clients and customers – understanding their needs, pain points and organizational goals. Then we work backward developing a backlog of capabilities, features and enhancements, partnering with you to focus on the highest value-adds first. At the end of each sprint comes a demo, where we present and solicit real feedback on completed pieces of work. Though maybe an incremental piece of a larger initiative, the work that is presented at demo will be ready to be delivered that day. We value “done-done” above all else. We also hold retrospectives throughout a project to examine our mechanics and identify improvements to continue getting better.
As we present each iteration, we partner with you to refine and reevaluate the work. Did our latest demo fully address the need? Should we add enhancements? Is it time to move on to the “next most important thing?” Those priorities and the current sprint are all visible in our sprint board (typically run in JIRA, Rally, or whatever your organization prefers) so that all stakeholders can see our progress and direction in one place.
By moving incrementally, we stay focused on your current priorities, not, perhaps, what was outlined in requirements documents a year ago in requirements. We don’t just deliver to the plan in pieces and call it Scrum. We embrace your ever-changing needs and act accordingly.
Finally, we embrace the power of Agile to shift the mindset of our clients in how they engage with us, primarily in how client employees use their time. We bring your performers in earlier in the process to test updates during each sprint, allowing them to give direct input while work is still in development. They can validate how these incremental deliveries enhance (or don’t enhance) their daily operations and responsibilities to ensure we are meeting the mark.
And for those skeptical of the “overhead” of Agile ceremonies: it’s the old adage of measure twice, cut once. Our people setting aside an hour or two to plan the sprint makes the best use of our resources and yours for the whole iteration.
The Results Speak for Themselves
Seeing meaningful work and incremental value every 2 weeks that moves you closer to your organizational goals is the biggest proof point for Agile. Our engagements often end sooner than initially expected, and our clients are thrilled with the results.
We’re fanatical about getting better, and we’ve adopted several best practices that shape our approach, and may benefit your own Agile teams:
- Demo or Die: We always aim for something “shippable” with each sprint, and not just a bi-weekly status update. Half-done is the same as not done and leaves the client no better off in the meantime
- Start with a Skateboard: Minimally Viable Products allow for the most amount of value, feedback and learning, with the least upfront investment. This MVP, or “Skateboard Version,” allows clients to react to the first iteration and provide new feedback and direction before we get too far into delivery (we wrote about it, and you can check it out here)
- Fail Fast: Sprints are short, and investing minimal time between feedback loops makes it easier to turn away from ideas that are less valuable than initially thought with no regrets
- Relentless Prioritization: If the backlog looks the same for more than a couple of sprints, we haven’t challenged ourselves or our clients to truly incorporate what we’re learning along the way
- Outcomes not Output: We deliver capabilities, rather than simply fulfilling on requirements documents. The adoption and business impact of those capabilities are the true measures of success
How We Can Help
To us, Agile creates a win-win experience for clients and our company. It establishes a structure and cadence for reassessing our direction, aligning priorities and getting to work without distraction. As we advance through the sprint and demo the work, we are building accountability, ownership and expertise among our team members, while nurturing cross-functional teams without silos.
For our clients, this continuous prioritization of new features often reduces time to market, as projects finish early and under budget with the most value-add features delivered. Through our focus on working deliverables, you capture almost immediate gains and business impact. Finally, that deeper collaboration between clients and our teams results in solutions that are more readily embraced by the enterprise.
As you plan your priorities for 2021, Flying Phase can help you rethink not just your critical financial processes and the technologies and tools that underpin them, but your approach to developing and deploying these initiatives to drive maximum value for your people and your customers.