Limber up and get agile!

AOTBOne of our most successful projects is Agile on the Beach and we are very proud to be part of it but more importantly, it has had a profound impact on how we work.

Having grown out of the IT/software development sector, Agile is more of a way of life than a simple process. It’s about focusing on actual needs and wants and evolving one’s product or service throughout the development and delivery processes rather than a more transactional approach.

To us, this is second nature. We always focus on what our client wants and what the project needs and we make sure that the conversation happens throughout the development and delivery processes. It’s just how we roll….but Agile gives us a structure for ensuring that this flexible and engaging approach is effective and profitable.

Agile, and particularly value stream mapping, gives us a means to understand the reality of the processes involved in what we do and identify where there is waste in terms of time, money and effort. Beyond the operational, Agile also has models that we can apply strategically to understand where we are adding value in our business, and where there is weakness or waste. We used it to frame both current and future business models when we shifted from a traditional employment hierarchy to a more flexible network structure.

It is increasing in popularity beyond the software and IT sectors with applications in team management, business strategy and work planning that are applicable to any sector. The team at MPAD are doing it within PR and having explored process driven structures with value stream mapping, they are now focusing more on the people rather than the processes. The great thing about Agile is that the application of the principles adapts with us too. Yesterday, I learnt that an American events and communications agency, Struck, is using Agile and multi-modal learning styles to develop communications across their teams and manage workload, all with a focus on what the customer needs and wants.

So it’s not just for software developers, it’s for anyone. There’s loads of information out there but all the presentations from this year’s Agile on the Beach are uploaded to the AOTB site now so a perfect opportunity to hear what it’s all about from the experts….

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

To tech or not to tech

telephoneWe are told that technology usage continues to increase and there are constantly new apps or devices on the market and that’s true but as I type, I am sat on a train to go to a meeting with a client because they want a face-to-face conversation.  Now, bear in mind that not all clients are the same (thankfully!) and all have different needs but in the last week, I have had one client say they want more meetings and another say not to worry about face-to-face and we can do all of our meetings via Facetime.

So technology may be on the rise and useful in some cases but it doesn’t take away the need to meet entirely.  Similarly, within Mackerel Sky we find that we all need to get together every so often as part of our team connectivity despite the power and capacity of our cloud-based software.  It simply is no substitute for getting to know someone, see the whites of their eyes and find the points of shared interest.  And this is what’s so important about face to face meetings with clients.  We are not just providing a service you see; we are making their ideas a reality and it is vitally important that they trust us.  We can’t (yet) build that trust singly via the phone, skype, facetime, email or any other technological connection.  Despite all of the technology available to us, we (humans) have that need to connect in person.

We are the project managers for Agile on the Beach (AOTB) which is a business conference exploring agile methodologies (which have grown out of the software development industry).  Given that agile grew out of the IT sector, it is fair to assume that the target market for AOTB is highly technologically capable, has a high level of tech awareness and is virtually connected already but this year we have already seen an increase in ticket sales yet again and it’s because AOTB not only fulfils that need to physically meet but that there is a value in the whole experience in terms of learning and engagement.  What I mean is that delegates and sponsors for AOTB get more than just a face to face from the event.  The experience of the conference provides a common ground for developing business relationships, going beyond email or LinkedIn or a phone call, even for these highly technically capable delegates!

That’s not to say that the tech isn’t important at all – far from it!  These delegates expect superfast broadband and easy, reliable wifi access and immediate engagement on Twitter and a parallel online conversation alongside the actual conference activity….it’s this development of the ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’.  And this presents a different kind of challenge for running this kind of event with increased logistics and more complex event design whilst still meeting the basic human needs of food, drink, safety etc. I suppose Maslow had it right all along in his hierarchy of needs and technology has yet to make it into being a basic human requirement of life.

On a personal note, I am fascinated by how Facebook and Twitter are evolving and more particularly how we use them is evolving.  I find that I using Facebook more as a medium to set up face to face conversations and social engagements than as a status updating/news sharing mechanism.  Perhaps this demonstrates that technology whilst increasing can only take us so far and there will always be a human need to actually connect.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

(Given the content of this blog it seems appropriate to do a shameless plug to our social media channels …. Facebook & Twitter – thanks!)

Agile – Not Just Talking the Talk

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One of the events I enjoy most in our portfolio is Agile on the Beach.  We are entering our 4th year of working on this project and about 2 years ago, we decided that we should walk the talk and adopt Agile practices ourselves.

Agile has grown out of the software development industry and not all of it works as well for service based industries like event management but there are some aspects that are really making a difference to how we work.

At a strategic level, following an agile approach means that we focus on our customers’ and clients’ needs, engaging them at every part of the project development and delivery process, listening and balancing viewpoints.  This wasn’t a big shift for us as event management is inherently conversational and rarely follows a standardised process (in our experience anyway!) but it made us recognise that the value of our service is in the relationships we have with our clients.

We also apply Agile principles in how we organise ourselves and our projects.  We have thrown out the traditional gantt chart!  We of course still plot out what we think is going to be needed but we start with the cost and timeframe and work within this to create an event which is of high quality and achieves the aims and objectives.  It means we are advisors and guides for clients who perhaps have a thought of what they want but don’t realise it is unachievable or inconsistent and Agile resonates with our responsibilities, as per the Eventia code of conduct, to ensure that we advise appropriately using our experience and knowledge to create events that are of the highest possible quality.

Agile practice means that we are constantly working to eliminate waste in our processes and product, evaluating our supply chain and service every step of the way with internal and external feedback mechanisms built in.  We always evaluate but it used to be at the end of the project and now it’s more like every day!  We have a project board in our meeting room which is populated with projects on post-it notes that move according to the stage of the process that they are in and how far they have progressed.  Agile on the Beach has just finished ‘Evaluation’ and ‘Proposal’ and is now in ‘Design’ for the 2014 conference (www.agileonthebeach.co.uk).

We have had the pleasure of working with the Agile on the Beach team to develop our approach (particularly Mike, Toby, Allan and Belinda) and it is great to really learn from our clients, to understand why they are so passionate about this way of working and to develop a way of working that is impacting on our productivity and profitability.

 

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events