Taking my own Advice... an Agile approach to the environment

08 August 2018

I was lucky enough to attend the Northumbrian Water Group's innovation festival this week. It was incredible to see so many people taking a step back from their day jobs to think about some really tough challenges, like how can we improve the lives of the visually impaired or how can we use open data to proactively predict (and prevent!) flooding.

There was a real buzz around the place, and you could tell that the people there really did want to make a difference. The thing that really impressed me though, was the commitment to make it a zero waste event.

As part of this we were given a refillable water bottle when we arrived that we could use at a number of water taps over the four day festival. Obviously as the event went on, even over such a short period of time, filling your water bottle became the new normal. Now, for those of you that know me, sustainability and taking care of the environment is really important to me… but sometimes I just get a bit overwhelmed about knowing where to start. It is easy to think the problem is too big to be solved. Or that I’m too small to make a difference.

This made me realise that there is real resonance between how I advise clients to implement Agile programmes, and how I *should* be approaching sustainability.

Just start somewhere: It doesn’t matter how small your first Agile project is, just as it doesn’t matter how small your first step towards sustainability is. Whether you are setting up one Kanban board and one Scrum team or setting up a Scaled Agile Transformation, all that matters is that you’ve decided to make a start. If you and your team decide the first step is using a re-usable water bottle it won’t take long for you to save hundreds of bottles that would have ended up in landfill, or even worse the ocean. In both cases, what will really make your change impactful, no matter how small it is committing to it. This takes me nicely to my second point.

It is better to complete one thing than have a load of things in your to-do list: If the only thing you do is buy a reusable cup and use it once a week you’ve still made a difference. In an Agile team, getting your Product Owner to prioritise your tasks means that even if you only do one thing that sprint, you’ve still done the most important thing. And better still - you’ve actually completed something that is releasing value to your customer.   

Use the human psyche to your advantage and build habits: now, if we are talking about only making small changes, as I mentioned above it is important to commit to them, and repeat them to maximise the impact. Luckily, as human beings we are often hard-wired to like repeatable patterns and like structure. So we need to harness that, we need to use this to our advantage by building habits. Think about the plastic bag levy – introducing the 5p charge was the little nudge that most people needed to create a new normal, cutting the use of single-use carrier bags by 85%. That’s why the Agile ceremonies are so important. I’m often asked why do we need to have a stand-up everyday if we haven’t made any progress? Well, there are a few reasons. There is the benefit of the transparency that there hasn’t been any progress, and also the opportunity to see if we can help remove the blocker, but fundamentally the real reason? It is to form the habit, it is to make the stand-up the new normal.

It is not going to be easy moving to a more sustainable future with the pace of change in our world, and the same can be said of most of my clients trying to work out how their organisations need to adapt in the digital world. However, as long as we work together, bring our friends and colleagues on the journey, and just start somewhere I’m confident we can make some real progress.

If anyone has any small changes they have made – to either help their Agile programme, or to help the environment then please do share!

For more information contact Lauren Cahill, Senior Manager at AAB Consulting (lauren.cahill@aab.uk) or your usual AAB Advisor.

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