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What's the future of agile post pandemic?

Julian Blake

How has the pandemic changed the agile approach that sits at the heart of the digital process? How will new hybrid ways of working change the way new services are delivered? And are post-it really notes dead? 

Those were among the key questions on the agenda at Opencast’s ‘future of agile post pandemic’ OpenForum webinar in October. We were joined by four expert speakers for the session.

Our expert speakers

Natalie Jones, director of digital identity at the Government Digital Service
Matt Brooke, head of development at GL Education
Helen Spires, service design specialist
Darren Horobets-Farley, senior IT consultant at Opencast.
OC consultant Luke Ryan moderated.

Our speakers shared the techniques and technologies they see as being at the forefront of the shift to new hybrid working models – and the role of collaboration tools in helping team voices to be heard.

Location, location

The future location of teams was a major theme of the discussion, including the implications of distributed teams on ways of working.

“What happened during the pandemic is that the country got flattened,” said Matt. “The internet levelled the geography of the country and people could work in Newcastle, Middlesbrough. Land’s End or John O’Groats…we’re effectively all in the same time zone and we can work just as well five miles as 500 miles from each other.”

“Some of our clients are already saying that they’re not setting aside permanent space for the consultancies, so they’re obviously a lot more confident that they can rely on working from home as a way to deliver,” said Darren. “It’s also had an effect on team composition.

“Location has started to feel irrelevant,” agreed Natalie. “Agile practices are all about communicate, communicate, building relationships with people and small feedback cycles.”

Team working

“One of the biggest challenges working remotely is maintaining the incidental conversations that spark ideas and drive things forward, Natalie added. “I think that’s the bit that’s hardest to replicate.”

With effort, she argued, challenges around team working can be at least partially resolved. “All of the soft things that you need to make an agile team really function can be replicated in a disparate world,” she said.

“There’s the whole point about culture including things like chatting over lunch,” she added. “To maintain this, you have to put more effort in. But, if people view it as valuable for their work-life balance, we can’t make a blanket assumption that it can’t be done any more, which sometimes, particularly in government, did happen.

“A lot of it is about putting in effort to mitigate any gaps and sometimes accepting that you’re going to spend two days in the same location – because actually it’s worth it.”

Changing processes

Agile processes could not only be maintained but actually improved, our speakers agreed. Darren said that “for software delivery teams, we’ve proven during the lockdown that we don’t need to be in an office to continue delivering. In some respects, there’s been a documented improvement in productivity with people working from home.”

Natalie agreed. “If you think about software development, a distributed model where you might have a development centre in a different country or time zone, has been around for a while across industry, but it’s not been leveraged as much in government. You now start to realise how they’ve made it work.”

Tools

When it comes to online collaboration tools, Kanban and Miro offered potential and were in regular use pre-pandemic of course. But Natalie saw “a big gap in the market for some real tools that enable whiteboarding and collaborative working.

“For agile teams, the thing I miss most is my whiteboard wall with post-it notes and markers” she said. “I feel like the big providers have missed a trick on some of this stuff. The wider tech industry has failed to really rise to the challenge on this, given the obvious need. If somebody cracks that, they’ll make an absolute fortune.

Access to services

Lockdown had a significant impact on public access to online services – with public buildings shut those without alternative internet access struggled. That has had to force a rethink.

“There was huge inequality in either access to digital, taking away people’s access. When the libraries closed that created a huge swathe of inability to access things,” said Helen.

“When the pandemic hit it created a moment where people had to really look at how we serve services to people, and it couldn’t just be through digital means. It had to be equal access for everybody.”

Opencast’s OpenForum seminar took place on 14 October. Thanks to all our speakers! Watch the session again on our YouTube channel.

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