Article by Perry Timms
If HR is to make good on a 21st century working proposition it needs to act, look and feel more agile
In my 15 years in HR I’ve seen project after project and a constant stream of restructuring and reshuffling.
Prior to being in HR I spent years in IT-enabled business change projects. So I know project environments. In those scenarios I saw some good practices and some appallingly over-laboured methodologies.
IT (let’s call it digital) is a very different place now. I still see some underwhelming corporate IT support, but largely the titans of business are all digital. So what’s made these titans quite so dominant? I believe it’s two things. Firstly, data and how it is used to inform every product, change and upgrade. Secondly, pace and efficiency in how they work as a collection of human beings swarming around new ideas and system improvements.
Manufacturing set the tone with Kaizen, Lean and Six Sigma methodologies that sought to remove waste, lag and mistakes. Agile and Scrum took this to the digital world and gave it all sorts of other aspects: marketing’s personas and experience/journey methodology, R&D’s data and analytics, product build/prototyping and design thinking.
Agile has become the thing for all to aspire to beyond coding and digital. It’s also an oft-bandied around term with poor understanding and even poorer application of the principles.
Which is why, when I wrote my book Transformational HR in 2017, I deliberately zoomed in on Agile as a key methodology for HR to be more in tune with and utilise. I wasn’t the first or alone in this belief.
People like Natal Dank, director and founder of Southern Blue Consulting, have been on this trail for a long time. Some learning consultancies and practitioners use Agile in their design, especially if it’s a digital learning product. HR hasn’t been quite so compelled by Agile to grasp or even experiment with it. Until now.
Most of the work I’ve been doing this past 10 months has been in the area of Agile and particularly working in Squads or Scrum teams. Squads is often also called the ‘Spotify model’ and it’s this way of working that has captured a lot of attention. My work is with charities, healthcare organisations, recycling and energy, local government, retail, consulting and education.
The key element is the energy and alignment of self-directed teams who come together to build a product, with a clear owner and a smart set of stories about the users of the product.
It occurred to me that we probably can’t recall the last time we took a radical look at how we deploy our mental processing and kilojoules in the work HR is doing. Dismissing Agile or Squads as fads would be easy to do but I’d warn: not so fast.
Within this way of working lies a further stimulant: people getting excited about their work.
What I’m experiencing in helping shift to more Agile and Squad-related working is a mix of intrigue and positive energy. With most things where people feel a bit incompetent, there is also some frustration and anxiety about unpicking what’s been the norm for years.
You can search ‘Agile projects’ and ‘Spotify Squads’ and there’s a lot already out there. The trick is in recognising that you’re not Spotify. So it’s more learning, analysing, communicating, designing, experimenting, iterating, reviewing and applying that same cycle, but while creating your version of Squad working.
Are project teams dead? Not yet, but they are possibly being overwritten by agile, HR-constructed Squads. If HR is to make good on a 21st century working proposition it needs to act, look and feel like more of the success stories of this connected, digital age of work.
There appears to be a new transformational energy building across enlightened HR practitioners in various sectors.
So we could be seeing HR shift from the pushers of policy-led processing to this new breed of Squad-oriented, super-dynamic HR swashbucklers all aboard the good ship Agile.
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