Agile Thinking

Reflections from the CEO of Cornwall Museums Partnership on the training and benefits of adopting agile within their team.

Emmie Kell, CEO, Cornwall Museums Partnership

What springs to mind when you think of the word ‘agile?’ An image of a high jumper came to my head when we are asked this question on Monday morning as part of our team training by Belinda Waldock from Being Agile. The ability to leap over sizeable obstacles with apparent ease seems like a suitable metaphor for our charity as we, like other cultural sector organisations, contemplate the outcomes of the government’s comprehensive spending review next month and the potential swingeing cuts to funding for arts and heritage.

Having an ‘agile’ organisation which can thrive in an increasingly changeable world is becoming ever more pressing. We don’t just need to respond to change – we need to adjust all our systems to integrate change and this is where Agile thinking comes in and the reason why we are introducing Agile across all of our functions at CMP.

‘Agile is a globally recognised term for a set of methods and practices that have emerged from the technology sectors to improve the development of software’ (Waldock B, Being Agile in Business 2015). It draws on coaching techniques and is all about collaboration. It focuses on adaptive planning, early delivery and helps to embed a culture of learning. It encourages rapid and flexible response to change.

Belinda took us expertly through the principles of agile thinking, the circular process of ‘act, reflect, learn’ and how, whilst procedure, documentation, contracts and plans are important, an agile professional gives priority to:

  • People
  • Working solutions
  • Collaboration
  • Change

Several packs of post it notes later and we had each created our own agile dashboards providing a very visual means of organising and prioritising our work – which, as Belinda says, literally puts the writing on the wall. The collective impact of this simple low cost technique is amazing – tasks that were invisible to others were now on the wall initiating new solutions to work which had been previously delayed or blocked. By allocating each task an estimated time, we began to see much more clearly where we were being optimistic about delivery times and which tasks needed more resource.

By using the MoSCoW tool (must/should/could/would) Belinda encouraged us to prioritise so that those tasks which will add real value are actioned first.

A key element of agile is not scoping everything out in detail at the beginning of the process. It takes the approach that we capture and review what we know, establish our goals and vision, our key objectives, and then to act in small incremental improvements based on validating the vision and options moving forward. Instead of being locked into a fixed set of outputs we will review our plans and progress on a daily basis, adapting and changing to suit the conditions in which we are operating. In an ever changing world this feels like it has to be the right way to go. Gone are the days of slavishly following a plan set out 2 years in advance of the delivery date which produces things people no longer want or need by the time the project completes.

As one of the team remarked this was ‘one of the best training activities’ she’d ever done and whilst we may not be any closer to joining the Olympic high jump team, we have taken a big leap into an Agile future.

(Blog by Emmie Kell, CEO)

Being Agile in Arts, Heritage & Culture

Over the past year I have enjoyed working in the arts & culture sector introducing agile for museums and arts projects to a number of teams including the Cornwall Museum Partnership team.  Through the Creative Skills network further training has been given to organisations including Cornwall National Maritime Museum, Tate St Ives and Leech Pottery to adopt and apply agile working in their teams and activities.

“Thank you – one of the best training sessions I’ve been on in a long time. Really productive, pragmatic and helpful” Chloe, Cornwall Museums Partnership

“A really productive thought provoking session packed full of material and good ideas.”

“Great blend of talking and activity.”

“very practical examples which everyone can relate to.

“Relaxed and informative presentation style which enabled everyone to contribute.”

“Although I’ve been to an Agile workshop previously, this time everything slotted into place more clearly. I think it was being able to plot everything (first with the boat diagram and then moving on to our boards) and also being able to compare mine to everyone else’s boards as a team.”

Agile Museum Workshop – a hands on introduction to agile theory, practice and implementation

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