You hear a lot these days about “agile” project management. This term is generally used by IT project managers to describe software development and system roll out projects. The general sense is that agility improves project outcomes by valuing open collaboration, speed of process, and transparency. While “Agile Project Management” is an important and valuable tool in the PM context, even in non-IT environments, I do not believe this limited scope should be taken as the definition, or necessarily even the goal of what we might call “Agile FM.”
Given FM’s scope of responsibilities and today’s business climate with limits on capital resources, changing priorities, new competencies and more, it is important that FM be agile in the way it approaches its responsibilities and delivers services.
At a recent meeting I heard what I think is a very good articulation of an agile organization, and I think it can be directly applied to the FM function in nearly any enterprise.
Become More Efficient at Everything We Do
Efficiency is key to optimizing work processes in a manner that improves speed, quality, cost, and customer satisfaction. The greater the gain in any of these dimensions the more efficient a process is. Efficiency is not always about speed, rather it is about the time and/or cost of the process relative to the quality of outcome. Anything you do to improve the quality in those dimensions makes it more efficient.
Aside from providing better outcomes to a process, improved efficiency also delivers another benefit – opportunity. The financial and human resources freed up by more efficient processes are available for application to other areas. The accumulated savings of multiple efficiency gains can be deployed against other processes or problems. In effect, the organization self-funds improvement activities. Continued over time this behavior will develop into a culture that thrives on innovating solutions and creating new opportunities.
Accelerating the pace of transformation provides a needed sense of urgency to help overcome resistance to change, and supports the development of favorable expectations. This cannot happen without a focused plan and executive sponsorship that demonstrates steady commitment to transformation processes.
Transformation is often about simplifying, creating clear pathways through complex systems and processes. When thought of this way transformation doesn’t seem so daunting. At its base it is about making work, and therefore life, easier. Who doesn’t want that? But initial changes that improve processes and systems are not the goal. True transformation changes organizations in ways that encourage and support future transformation. In many ways it is about creating a new culture, one that accepts constant change throughout the organization without paralyzing it. By leveraging the existing culture and organizational values a new culture of transformation is established and nurtured.
Two final points on transformation: First, this new culture will need to be nourished. Abandoning efforts to validate it after the first few wins risks a quick, and likely painful regression. Secondly, a key deliverable of any transformation initiative should be the building in of change tolerance to all core processes. This enables the kind of continuing change that keeps moving the organization forward.
Illuminate Trade-Offs, Make Decisions
Agile organizations are by definition constantly evolving organizations. That means that there is a never ending process of discovery, investigation, option analysis, decision making, implementation, and feedback.
The importance of objective trade-off analyses cannot be over stated - the commitment to objectivity is a critical part of agility. It places less value on assumptions and personal power and more value on transparency and fact-based evaluation. In the quest for objectivity there is empowerment that supports the asking of tough questions, the kind that might not get asked if the security of that value is not present. Answers to those questions present and illuminate facts that might not be known if the questions were never asked.
Once the objective analysis presents clearly defined options it is time to decide. The speed of decision making is important because it helps maintain or diminishes momentum. On the other side of the coin, the speed of decision making can be largely affected by organizational risk tolerance. Some organizations have a culture that allows making decisions as quickly as possible, accepting that there is more risk of a wrong decision than if waiting until more facts are available. Organizations with this model tend to be entrepreneurial in style if not practice. Other organizations may require nearly all or all known available information before making decisions. These tend to be long-view oriented and institutional in nature.
Generally, it is better to make decisions at the earliest possible moment in order to accelerate the benefit of those decisions. Organizations that fall into the latter category mentioned above, those that require greater amounts of information and never ending analysis before making decisions, handicap themselves in the effort to be agile and nimble. Unless they are in a very protected class they run the risk of analyzing themselves into irrelevancy, or worse. Today’s world does not coddle those who cannot look, decide and act with precision and speed.
Start Now – Don’t Wait
Agility is about movement and momentum. Waiting to start only perpetuates the present and loses the opportunity of the future. Once you’ve made the decision (there’s that word again) then get to it. Don’t become paralyzed by planning, scheduling, convincing and all the other reasons you could think of to wait until you can get it perfect. Don’t worry about perfect. Worry about getting started…now. Start small if you must, but start now. Start with small projects, celebrate success, build the culture, change your future. Develop momentum - you can worry about perfection later.