Responding to change over following a plan

In a previous post, I took the first point of the agile manifesto: "Individuals and interactions are more important than processes and tools" as an opportunity to compare it to living with dogs.

Today it's about "Responding to change is more important than following a plan", point 4 of the agile manifesto. Phu, so when I look at my life, pretty much nothing has really gone according to plan. I am a person who is always organised and up until my mid-twenties or so, I meticulously planned everything. My career goals were set, my travels were planned all the way through to 2027. When I'm invited to a party, I have to know exactly where to be and when, and I study the weather forecast weeks in advance so that I'm ready for all eventualities. But, you never stop learning because, life happens while you’re making plans. 😊

I wouldn't be the author of this blog if I couldn't use a dog anecdote to explain this point too.

With dogs, you can have a certain plan, but you also have to be able to respond to certain changes. A recent example from my holidays. I went hiking in Austria with my friend and our three dogs in total. When we checked in at the hotel, we were asked if we wanted to take our dogs with us to the dining room during mealtimes. "Of course not," we replied. This would be too stressful for everyone involved including the other guests.

But I guess I didn't check this with my senior Chilly. She is turning 11 this year and is becoming increasingly clingy and a bit more complicated than she used to be. During our first dinner at the hotel, she ended up barking at the entire hotel. So I decided to take Chilly to dinner with me every time. Embrace the change. However, that wasn't my plan, but things can change that quickly.

When you want to work in an agile way, the planning part doesn't always work either. Let's assume that you create a roadmap and a release plan for the development of a software. You want to develop it iteratively and go live with the release plan iteratively with individual functions. You must be able to give the stakeholders a certain outlook on how long a project will take, and an approximate plan is also important for budget planning. However, changing circumstances may mean that the plan cannot be implemented as desired. Agile working means welcoming change and, in the best case, even being happy about it. I, for one, find change exciting. Even if I do not always like it, changes do however lure me out of my comfort zone and force me to act quickly without complications. Sure, change can also be insanely tedious and exhausting, as well as frustrating.

However, deviations from the plan do not necessarily only have to be related to external changes. It is also possible for problems to arise within a project that delays the original planning.

No matter what the reason is for not being able to keep to the plan, it is important how one reacts to it. You should have a plan in the back of your mind along with prevention methods (in case needed) so that you are able to respond quickly to any unexpected changes. In terms of prevention, I have personally focused on three points:

Failure of key persons

The loss of a key person or know-how carrier can be very drastic and truly jeopardise the success of a project.

Agility promotes self-organised teams that want to live T-Shaping. Employees with a T-shaped qualification profile are considered T-Shaped professionals: The vertical line of the "T" stands for the area of specialist knowledge, i.e. the field of study or expertise acquired through the professional career. With the T-shape idea, one wants to promote the transfer of knowledge between employees. Just because someone has "never done something before" does not mean that they cannot. The project management should actively promote T-shaping and the staff should have the opportunity to attend training courses on topics that are rather "foreign" to them in order to acquire the necessary knowledge. Provided, of course, that it serves the project. Training should be financed and can be done during working hours.

Furthermore, employees should have the opportunity to teach each other things in order to enable the exchange of know-how. It is not enough to run a project in an agile way and assume that - just because you are now running in an agile way - suddenly every employee can do everything. Agility also means being T-shaped. But that ties up resources that should be planned accordingly.

Pressure and motivation in harmony

A little pressure never hurt anyone. But too much is not good either. A good mix of positive pressure and motivation makes teams perform well.

In this context, it is important to mention that you also want to keep people motivated. It doesn't do anyone any good if you have to replace the entire project team after two years because half of them are on the verge of burnout and the other half has already taken sick leave. Thinking preventively and sustainably is the motto here. You also want people to enjoy their work. Because people who enjoy their work also produce better results. I don't need to show you a study for that, it's common sense.

Stakeholders understand agility and how it is implemented

The whole agile approach is of no use and cannot be implemented cleanly if stakeholders are not aware of the agile manifesto and that you and your project want to live by it. The agile approach is not only beneficial for the project, but also for the stakeholders themselves. Above all, they have the opportunity to react to changing customer needs and the chance to implement new customer wishes more quickly than in a project that runs rigidly according to plan.

If you adhere to these three points, live them and succeed in anchoring them in the DNA of the employees, the project management and the stakeholders, the project can be a success despite constant changes without massively delaying the roadmap.

What are your experiences? Do you prevent change? How do you react to them? Or do you wait and learn in the process what could be done better in the future?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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