Agility, Guidance
Agile tools, agile project management & agile leadership

Table of contents

Agile tools and agile project management

Challenges and tasks for agile managers

Why agility? What are the benefits of agile project management?

The demands placed on companies have changed significantly in recent years and will continue to do so. It is not yet possible to predict exactly what will change and how, but it is clear that many things will change fundamentally. Technical innovations and even disruptive innovations are appearing in ever shorter succession. The markets and general conditions are also volatile (Latin for very mobile, fluctuating, unsteady). Companies have to react ever faster to customer wishes. How can we respond to this change? How do we prepare our companies to be able to react flexibly? And what changes are there for leadership and project management?

One solution is agility. Agile leadership and agile project management are currently on everyone’s lips; we would like to introduce this approach here.

What is agility?

The term “agile project management” originally comes from software development and was coined back in the 1980s. In order to keep up with the fast-moving IT industry and to program quickly and flexibly, software developers kept the bureaucratic effort and the underlying rules to a minimum. They worked their way forward step by step, adapting to the purpose, situation and interests in each case. This -agile- type of project management has also been used successfully outside of software development for some time.

Change and agility: Where can agile leadership be applied?

The requirements for successful leadership and the expectations employees have of their managers have changed. Not only have the external conditions changed, but the organizations themselves have also become complex social systems. Hierarchy is being called into question and gradually replaced by networks. Digitalization and automation are changing jobs, processes and structures. Some employees are based on different continents, come from different cultures and work on interdisciplinary projects.
The values of employees have also changed: The people of Generation Y are self-confident and goal-oriented; they have high expectations in terms of creative freedom, personal responsibility and remuneration. We will get to know the values and demands of Generation Z, and we can expect a change here too.

Interdisciplinary project work with agile leadership

Companies pursue their goals in the areas of tension between external and internal change. In order to be successful, projects do not need a new structure – existing structures should be dissolved. This is how agility can emerge, because it allows project management to be agile, active and skillful.

What can agile project management look like?

  • The manager is the coordinator and creates the framework conditions: They coordinate the teams and define the framework and budget. She is responsible for the provision of resources and ensures that the age structure, experience and skills in the team are well mixed.
  • The objectives of the project are discussed with the team and the individual performance targets of individual employees are agreed together. In this sense, employees are involved in decision-making processes. This means that the goals set are also perceived as personal goals, which strongly motivates employees.
  • The timetable is agreed together.
  • The team itself decides who will be the team leader and how the team will keep up to date.
  • The manager is transformed from a leading to an accompanying figure. She is the contact person for problem solving and provides support. She gives the team freedom and stays in the background.
  • At the end of the project, the employees give each other feedback: Has the common goal been achieved? Can all employees meet their target agreements? Which methods have proven successful?

Video agile project management

In times of change, agile working methods are becoming increasingly important in order to be able to work faster and more directly with customers. But does it make sense to solve all tasks in an agile way in future, or can a classic approach also work? In today’s video, Susanne explains how you can answer this question for yourself with the help of the Stacey Matrix.

Leadership tasks in agile project management

The management tasks of agile project management consist of three groups of tasks:
  1. Structure: Setting the framework, tendering tasks, negotiating budgets, enabling timings
  2. Support: organizing resources, networking skills, orchestrating project teams, ensuring well-being
  3. Strategy: Recognize contexts, network competencies, promote developments, agree on goals.

What challenges do agile project management and the new leadership roles entail?

Agility demands a lot from the manager: he or she becomes a jack-of-all-trades who inspires and coordinates, is a role model, innovator, visionary, talent manager and motivator. This changeover is certainly not easy for long-standing managers. If we look at the last 20 years, we see a wealth of measures with which managers have expanded their skills; a lot has been learned, trained and invested in order to be able to lead optimally. And now leadership is supposed to change completely and the hard-won knowledge and skills lose their relevance?
Not only that – the change also entails a loss of status. Hierarchy, control and command are suddenly a thing of the past. Managers have to legitimize themselves much more than in the past, because the management position alone no longer ensures acceptance by employees.
It is therefore not surprising that many managers are not at all enthusiastic about the trend towards agility.

Managers must adapt their skills to the new, agile management tasks and framework conditions.

  • Communication skills

    The ability to communicate with very different people will become a core competence of future managers. They must be able to lead very heterogeneous teams, i.e. people from a wide variety of backgrounds, for example from different countries and cultures and from different generations. The risk of getting into chaos and conflict is quite high here, because what is common and natural for one culture can be an absolute no-go for another. The different generations also bring their own values and work ethic with them.

  • Goals

    Ideally, the goals of the company should be linked to the goals of the employees. Incentives can be offered to promote commitment and loyalty. Here, too, it is worth taking a look at the different values of different generations and cultures: for example, status symbols and expensive company cars are not particularly attractive to Generation Y and are therefore not motivating.

  • Agility of the framework conditions

    In order to enable an agile management style, the framework conditions and the environment must first be redesigned. The challenge for the organization is to create a framework for flexibility, networking and open communication that also works virtually.

  • Decisions

    It is crucial to adapt quickly to market changes. Long decision-making processes and hierarchies make this difficult. In this respect, flat hierarchies and short decision-making paths, i.e. a high level of responsibility for decisions on the part of employees, make sense.

  • The role of leadership

    from boss to service provider; from instructor to mentor. Instead of setting guidelines, the manager provides support, removes obstacles and helps employees to make their own decisions in future.

  • Role of employees

    A lot is changing here too: employees have significantly more responsibility, have to make decisions and coordinate a lot with colleagues. Personal responsibility and teamwork are becoming increasingly important.

Even if agile leadership tends to remain in the background, this does not mean that we no longer need good leadership. The opposite is the case: good leadership is by no means completely different than before – it just requires a different focus. The combination of skills required in each case cannot be specified per se, but depends on the specific situation in the company.

Conversion to agility

Agility is spreading fast: the number of agile companies, managers and employees is increasing; agile project management is being used more and more frequently. But be warned not to change over too quickly: it is better to change over gradually, starting with small steps and beginning with individual departments or projects. Managers and employees need time to get used to the new way of working together and to learn and practice agility.

How companies managed to switch to agile project management and agile leadership to convert. Two examples.

Agility at Yello Strom

In 2012, the electricity provider Yello Strom began to explore agile management: As a trial, a few IT teams organized themselves in an agile way and gained initial experience with agile project management. This went so well that Yello Strom decided in autumn 2015 to extend the agile model to the entire organization. Instead of pushing ahead with a radical changeover, it was decided to proceed step by step. Initially, the company was divided into two new divisions, each working for different customer groups. These groups can decide for themselves where they think it makes sense to form agile teams. There are no targets for when exactly agile project management is required; this corresponds to the basic idea of agility, where the need, situation and team decide. Agile management tools are introduced, for example Kanban boards. These are whiteboards on which it is possible to see across departments which tasks are currently pending, who is working on what, how the work flow is going towards the customer. This creates transparency.
HR development is also becoming more agile: As teams and employees take responsibility for their own development, the HR development department is gradually becoming superfluous.
Throughout the change process, managers continue to take on important leadership tasks: Through team meetings and individual discussions, they help their employees to apply the principles and tools of an agile company – and encourage them to work independently.
Conclusion: If you give the organization enough time and space for change, then agility makes the company more successful.

Agile methods at Bosch

In an interview with Human Resources Magazine, Bosch HR Director Christoph Kübel talks about the importance of overarching collaboration and agile methods at Bosch.
The Bosch company employs 375,000 associates. These are not managed centrally; they are organized decentrally in corporate and business divisions. In addition, there are start-up-like units and agile teams that can react quickly and flexibly to customer needs through independent, agile project management. These units can often draw on solutions that have already been developed within the Group. This is how agile teams and line organizations complement each other. An example of extremely agile project management: within just 3 weeks, a small group developed an app from an internal start-up platform. This is based on existing techniques and helps asparagus growers to control soil and irrigation.
The Group is open to change, including the dissolution of hierarchies and changes in management. Depending on the situation, you check how much hierarchy is needed in the respective area. In one of the largest Bosch plants in Bamberg, for example, it was concluded that the removal of a management level in production would lead to poorer results, as the machine operators feel less valued as a result. In other areas, on the other hand, there are many agile teams that largely dispense with hierarchy.
Basically, Bosch wants a management team that is passionate about achieving success together with its associates, that gives them both freedom and support. As HR Director, Christoph Kübel wants to be a role model for agility. That’s why he keeps up to date with agile methods, attends design thinking workshops and incorporates Scrum elements into his own processes.

Caught in the net:

Would you like to know more about agility? Are you planning agile project management or want to switch to agile leadership?
Talk to us, we will be happy to support you!

The authors

Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian Grätsch
Matthias Beikert
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
Anna Isabell Arendt
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga Kühn
Kassandra Knebel
Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team
Berliner Team