Agile Methodologies Help Transform a Nonprofit

By Guest Author  |  Posted 2015-02-05 Email Print this article Print
Agile Methodologies

This nonprofit transformed its business practice, implemented a new case management system and adopted a new business process—all with minimal disruption.

Getting the Product Owners Right

The product owner is the person who speaks for the customer. These were people in the organization who best understood the needs of the children and families served by the organization. With a few exceptions, they were not executives or managers. They were social workers who were equipped to make key decisions for the team about tradeoffs, features, and priorities that would ensure that what resulted was what would best serve children, families and social workers.

The product owners took their responsibility seriously. When they couldn’t make team meetings due to conflicting responsibilities, they deputized proxies to be their eyes and ears in order to make sure that items were correctly prioritized and questions answered so the teams could keep producing.

Communicating the Purpose of Daily Stand-ups

At first, not everyone understood the concept of a daily meeting in which every participant was expected to show results. Team members were used to being assigned to committees where people attended, but didn’t necessarily produce.

We developed a clear distinction: If you were coming to a sprint meeting, it was because you were accountable for something. Individuals who got away from the discipline of the daily stand-up would drift in different directions and would have to recommit to the process.

Demonstrating Success With an Early Win

When trying something new, it’s important to show that it's working. For most teams, success was measured in completed work, not logged hours or dollars spent.

The first win was the table of contents for the practice manual, which describes what the social workers do and how they conduct their work with families—essentially a field manual. In the first sprint review, just two weeks from the kickoff, stakeholders got to see a table of contents that showed what the practice manual would cover.

They also got to see that the teams were producing and that the sprint reviews were a valuable use of their time. They could visualize how the whole program was going to come together. This demonstrated how the agile process was going to work.

The Result

The nonprofit successfully transformed its entire business practice, implemented a new case management system and adopted a new business process with minimal disruption. Although not every team adopted agile, it was largely agile methodologies that enabled the organization to redesign its practice and transform operations from the ground up.

In a review at the end of the program, participants wrote on notecards what worked the best and what worked the least. Agile was cited most often as a major component of success.

Whether your organization needs to completely transform its processes or is merely struggling with a single complicated project, agile may be the best approach.

John O. Saunders is a senior program manager with AIM Consulting. He has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of information technology, software development and program management and has led dozens of projects with diverse clients in finance, logistics, manufacturing, insurance, and government. He is a certified Project Management Professional, has served as adjunct faculty for Seattle University, and is an active member of the Project Management Institute and IEEE in Seattle.


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