If you’re looking for a management consulting company to help guide you and your business and you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone.
Obviously, you want to choose a highly capable organization that’s flexible, well-seasoned, efficient, modern, has tons of experience, and is ahead of the technological curve. You want a consultant who understands and has experience applying Agile.
Today, Agile is commonly understood as a discipline of techniques and Best Practices that encourage efficiency and simplicity in processes.
Many organizations have recently been hopping on the Agile bandwagon in search of a better way of conceptualizing systems, processes, and business architecture. Agile philosophy is changing the way organizations function around the world, with many already declaring themselves experts and boasting about successful results from their practices.
But not all of them are as “agile” as they claim to be.
A recent Forbes article discusses the alarming spread of “fake Agile” and explains how to distinguish it from the real deal: “More than 90% of senior executives give high priority to becoming agile, while less than 10% see their firm as currently highly agile.”
So how do you differentiate who offers valuable Agile guidance and who has no idea what they’re talking about?
Watch out for the following six clues that your contractor might not know Agile as well as they claim.
1. They frequently throw around the word “Agile” and its related terminology… but completely out of context.
As many people are aware, the term “Agile” was originally used strictly for talking about programming and software design practices. As the ideology has been adopted and expanded upon, the term now represents an entire discipline that consists of company-wide practices for encouraging efficiency and simplicity.
Some of the companies that have most effectively integrated themselves with Agile practices choose not to use Agile terminology at all, a strong indication that they are truly committed to practices rather than partaking in a fad.
Other companies do the exact opposite.
Using branded Agile terms, such as Scaled Agile Frameworks or Agile Lite, can make the methodology sound much more confusing than it is in an effort to make consultants sound like they know more than they do. Such complicated terminology can be a clear giveaway that a contractor does not really understand Agile.
2. They are super enthusiastic about implementing Agile practices… but lack the proper Agile mindset.
Many organizations believe that simply using the abundance of Agile practices and techniques automatically qualifies them as Agile Experts. This is not so, as there is a clear distinction between "doing" Agile and "being" Agile.
Simply doing Agile practices runs the risk of creating dysfunction between Agile individuals and more traditional sectors of an organization. While small teams may be convinced of their Agile abilities, management may still be stuck in their old ways, distancing themselves from the others and defeating the entire point of Agile.
“Being” Agile requires a company-wide effort to commit to transforming from a traditional, hierarchical management structure to a community of collaborative small groups or teams.
When selecting a consultant, make sure that Agile philosophy embodies the entire philosophy of the organization rather than just a few departments.
3. They talk on and on about how Agile, efficient, quick, integrated, etc. their teams, managers, and departments are within their company… without any mention of their customers whatsoever.
Without a doubt, it is necessary to transform the internal structure of your organization to become Agile. Internal transformation requires a unified understanding of what Agile is, how Agile practices will be implemented, and how the transformation will affect the future of your company.
However, a common flaw among companies who wish to go Agile is putting so much effort into internal transformation that the company completely forgets to maintain the Agile principle of customer focus.
If your consultant does not appear to prioritize their clients’ needs as much as developing their own internal structure, they probably do not understand Agile.
4. They put a huge emphasis on customer needs and user interface… without any mention of their overall plans or systems architecture.
As previously stated, it’s dangerous to put so much thought and energy into transforming your organization internally that you forget to prioritize your customers. However, doing the reverse can be just as detrimental.
While the evolving needs of your customers should always remain the heart of your organization’s focus, putting too much emphasis on users and customers may end up distracting you from developing your systems architecture.
Systems architecture design is necessary in any company’s Agile transformation. Although focusing on customers allows for flexibility, systems architecture provides a broad, stable plan for how the company will continue to change in the future regardless of changing customer needs.
Your contractor does not understand Agile if they prioritize program construction and day-to-day operations over architecture design.
5. They boast of their success using Agile practices and philosophy in their projects… but have no idea how to articulate or measure their progress.
Traditional business development methods, such as the Waterfall Method, use metrics such as time and quantity of output. Not surprisingly, in a world of exponential technological growth and businesses that must adapt to rapidly changing external environments, these metrics no longer suffice.
As the fundamental goals of Agile include operations efficiency, customer needs, and the ability to adapt, businesses must rely on performance-based metrics to let them know how well their projects are doing.
Many contractors claiming to understand Agile are not able to explain or track progress using these new metrics and resort to the use of traditional metrics instead. These contractors do not really know Agile.
6. They tell you they have tons of experience successfully using Agile practices… but have nothing to show for it.
This is probably the most obvious sign that an organization does not understand Agile. Agile sounds lovely in theory, but properly utilizing it is a completely different story.
RG can personally attest to this unfortunate sign of ineptitude. Many organizations who we have partnered with, including a big, very well-known consulting firm that will not be named, have claimed to be Agile experts while having no experience practicing it at all, leaving us to pick up their slack.
No organization could ever claim to be an expert at Agile without a portfolio of successful Agile projects.
Finding a contractor who is as qualified as they claim to be can be difficult. Team RG suggests that you never rely solely on the size of the company nor the cost of their services to determine whether they actually know what they’re talking about—or not.
As the popular saying goes, “you get what you pay for,” and this remains true when hiring business consultants. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the most expensive contractors will always be Agile experts, but it does mean that you shouldn’t expect high quality work if you’re not willing to pay for it.
RG suggests trying to find the consultant that offers the best value overall—the best bang for your buck.
While looking for an Agile consultant, always use extreme caution. Watch out for these six signs and make sure that you never become a victim of fake Agile.
Visit RG’s resources page to learn more about proper Agile practices, including our white papers on Program Management for Successful Agile Project Delivery and Ten Actions Leaders Must Take to Drive Organizational Performance.