Agile Communications teams: Do they work?

In 2014 I joined the Internal Communications team at a large technology company. I heard about Agile ways of working at the company induction, but figured it was only relevant to people working on IT projects.  What could product backlogs and burndown charts have to do with Communications?

Not long after – thanks to a forward-thinking Comms colleague – I learned more about how Agile worked in practice. At its core, Agile is about helping teams develop dynamic solutions for clients through rapid cycles of planning, reviewing and refining.  The lightbulb moment came – couldn’t that be relevant to Comms too?!

Like many Comms teams, our traditional method of planning and scheduling seemed to be creaking. Despite being a relatively small team we were working in silos. It was difficult to judge capacity and productivity, and to respond quickly to change.

We needed to work differently.

Learning the ropes

With all the focus on Agile project deliveries, we wanted to see if its principles and processes could translate into a Comms team environment.

One of the benefits of Agile is the way that it can empower teams to communicate, self-organise and collaborate to deliver the best possible solutions. (It’s not about making things up on the hoof  without any plan!) And so, with the help of an Agile consultant, we reviewed our ways of working and collectively agreed to a new approach.

We began our agile journey by working in cycles or “sprints” lasting two weeks. Each sprint started with a thorough planning session where we would create a visual timeline of our collective work plan.  It was an incredibly easy and effective way of surfacing  clashes, resource challenges, or spare capacity.

We would then reprioritise and juggle work across the team until we had a realistic shared work plan. Sometimes this gave rise to challenging conversations, but it also meant tacking issues in an open and constructive way. We also built in a buffer for unplanned, urgent work – although that sometimes felt more like an art than a science.

At first these planning sessions were really hard, but we saw improvements from the first session and we quickly got into a rhythm.

Checking progress and evaluating success

Each morning we would huddle together to cover off our progress against the work plan, and highlight any blockers.

A crucial part of Agile working is to regularly review success and lessons learned. So, at the end of each sprint we held a short review meeting. Had we completed all the work in the sprint? If not, why not? How did we all feel – motivated and chirpy, or tired and drained? Were the same issues cropping up?

The review session was a safe space to reflect on what had gone well and not-so-well, and to recognise colleagues who had done a great job.  We aimed to take away two to three learnings for the next sprint.

These meetings became one of my favourite things about Agile working.

Transformational

The change in our team was remarkable. We were more organised and more effective. We were comfortable sharing work and collaborating; and we had a sense of shared ownership and pride in what we could achieve.

So, what was it that made our agile journey successful? On reflection, a few things were crucial:

  • Buy-in. Everyone in the team was open to piloting the new ways of working, and we had the support of the Business.

  • Trust. Agile working meant sharing work across the team in a way that we hadn’t before. We had to trust each other to deliver work that might have previously been one person’s responsibility.

  • Organised. A critical part of the process is making time for planning. We learned that every member of the team needed to join for it to work, and that it comes to some people more naturally than others.

Every team is different, so I wouldn’t suggest that our interpretation of Agile would necessarily work for others – but I hope it’s given you some interesting ideas.

I would love to hear from other Comms practitioners who have adopted Agile or other methodologies. Did it work for you? Have you find a better solution?

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