How to Get Started with Agile: A Practical Guide for Project Managers

Are you a project manager feeling frustrated with your current tools and methods? Maybe this Agile thing could be your solution. But how do you get started? You might think the answer lies in taking a course or reading endless guides. While courses can be beneficial (and if you’re going to take one, I’d recommend mine), you don’t have to wait for formal training. You can start making improvements right now with some simple steps. Hi, I’m John McFadyen, a certified Scrum trainer, Agile coach, and managing partner at Agile Center. I’ve been using Scrum and Agile approaches for over 20 years, and I’m here to show you how to begin your Agile journey today.

Just Get Started

Many people believe that before diving into Agile, they need to read the Scrum guide, study the manifesto, and follow a checklist of preparatory steps. But why can’t a busy professional like you start with something simple? Let’s talk about how you can just get started with a straightforward example.

Case Study: Implementing Agile in a Law Firm

I was working with a law firm to help their software teams adopt Scrum and Agile. One day, a senior lawyer approached me. He didn’t care about Agile, but he saw that my methods were helping teams get work done. He asked if I could help his team, which was struggling to manage their workload and billing.

Visualizing the Workflow

To get started, I asked the team to write down all the steps their cases went through, from start to finish, on Post-it notes. They quickly arranged these in order on a wall, creating a visual map of their workflow. This simple exercise helped them see the entire process and identify bottlenecks.

Creating a Kanban Board

Next, we created a Kanban board without even mentioning the term “Kanban.” We wrote down each case on a card and placed it in the appropriate column on the board, based on where it was in the process. This visualization made it clear where work was getting stuck and which parts of the process needed attention.

The Power of Visualization

One of the most powerful aspects of Agile is making work visible. When you can see all the steps in your process and where each piece of work is, it becomes much easier to identify bottlenecks and areas for improvement.

Identifying Bottlenecks

In the law firm example, it quickly became apparent that most of the work was stuck behind the paralegals. They were doing a great job, but there was simply too much work for them to handle. This visualization helped the team see that they needed to distribute some of the paralegal tasks to the lawyers to keep things moving.

Taking Action

The senior lawyer was initially concerned because lawyers generally don’t like doing paralegal work. However, once it was clear that this change would help them get work out the door and increase their bonuses, the team was motivated to make the necessary adjustments.

Start Small and Simple

If you’re struggling to get started with Agile, you don’t need to dive into all the frameworks and methodologies at once. Start by visualizing your current process. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Identify Steps: Write down all the steps in your process from start to finish.
  2. Create a Board: Arrange these steps in order on a board (physical or digital).
  3. Track Work: Write down each piece of work on a card and place it in the appropriate step on the board.
  4. Observe and Adjust: Look for bottlenecks and areas where work is getting stuck. Make small adjustments to improve flow.

Embrace Continuous Improvement

Agile is all about continuous improvement. Once you’ve started visualizing your process and identifying bottlenecks, you can make informed decisions about how to improve.

Recommendations for Improvement

  • Regular Reviews: Schedule regular reviews of your board to identify new bottlenecks and areas for improvement.
  • Team Collaboration: Involve your team in these reviews. They often have valuable insights and ideas for making the process better.
  • Small Changes: Focus on making small, incremental changes rather than big overhauls. This makes it easier to see what works and what doesn’t.

Conclusion: Your First Steps Towards Agile

Starting with Agile doesn’t have to be complicated. By simply visualizing your current process, you can begin to see where improvements are needed and take action. Remember, the goal is to make work visible, identify bottlenecks, and continuously improve. Whether you’re dealing with a law firm, a software team, or any other type of work, these principles can help you get started with Agile today. So, take that first step, start visualizing, and watch as your efficiency and productivity begin to soar. 🚀

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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