Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
Applying Agile Software Development to Culture Work

Applying Agile Software Development to Culture Work

February 13, 2017
Jamie Notter

Intentionally creating an effective culture takes effort, and that is typically on top of the effort everyone is putting in on their “real” job. And a strong culture is not built overnight, either. While I push back against the people who argue it takes 8 years or more to change a culture, I do agree that it’s not a simple flip of a switch either. And it’s not usually about change, really. It’s about creation, and nurturing, and adjusting, and all that is going to take continuous effort.

It’s a challenge to manage the pace and timing of all that effort. So how much effort should our top people put into this? How much time will this take our salespeople away from selling? When will he have measurable results? What are the major milestones over the next year?

I am finding there are no simple answers to questions like these. Or, more accurately, the answers vary from situation to situation, even within a single client system. Despite the lack of consistent answers, however, I am discovering an elegant solution:

Agile software development.

Agile development (particularly the scrum methodology) recognizes that as you build software, you are constantly learning new things as you create different parts of the software and get more feedback from users. So that long-term, linear planning model—where you spend months developing requirements, then months designing, then weeks testing and THEN show it to a user—doesn’t make sense. Instead, Agile uses a series of iterative “sprints” involving a cross-functional team (coders, designers, testers, even users) and ends up developing better software, faster.

We think culture work would benefit from this approach as well. In our Workplace Genome Activation Program, we work with a cross-functional internal Culture Team to do the analysis of their Workplace Genome, develop “plays” they will run to strengthen their culture, and then run those plays, all using agile and scrum methods. We translate the culture work into “products” we’re developing, and then we run a series of sprints until we’re done. Since we are actively learning in each sprint, which are typically about four weeks in length, we won’t always be accurate in predicting where we’ll be six months from now, but we will always be making smart, effective, progress.

And that, more than anything, is what you need to make culture work successful.

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