Tailored Agile training for a non-software environment gives multiple Cardiff University departments the skills they need to do more.

For development teams across the globe, adopting Agile techniques has enabled them to deliver solutions faster, manage changing priorities better, and use budgets more efficiently. But with these outcomes desirable for teams of all types, what’s to stop Agile being used to bring about benefits outside of the software industry?

That’s exactly what a selection of teams from across Cardiff University thought – and they knew that Box UK could help them.

Taking our practitioner’s knowledge of Agile, we began our engagement with a series of one-day training courses. Tailored to meet the specific requirements and contexts of a diverse range of teams within the university from the Communications department to the School of Dentistry, these sessions demonstrated precisely how essential Agile principles could be applied to their environment, and provided practical tips that enabled the teams to begin working in an Agile way the very next day.

This was followed by a 12-month programme of work for Cardiff University’s Innovation and Business Engagement team, based within the Research and Innovation Services department, who had been impressed with the results seen elsewhere across the institution. Through interactive workshops we coached the team in a range of Agile techniques and interactions, giving them the skills needed to maximise productivity and value and leaving them well-equipped to respond to the seismic change brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown.

So if you think that Agile’s not for you, think again. It could be just what you need.

"The programme of Agile coaching Box UK has delivered over the past 12 months has been invaluable in helping us work more flexibly, responsively and transparently."

Elin Lloyd Jones
Head of Innovation and Business Engagement, Cardiff University

Tailored Agile training

Universities are diverse places, and different departments are often subject to different requirements, contexts of working, and key performance indicators. Naturally then, each of the Cardiff University teams seeking Agile training had their own reasons for doing so. The development team, for example, were looking to improve their ‘nuts and bolts’ understanding of the approach in order to apply it to future projects, while the communications team were interested in the ways it could speed up their processes to avoid an unmanageable backlog of tasks building up. The dental department, by contrast, wanted to know how Agile could benefit their research and development programme, among other departmental activities.

It was clear from the outset, therefore, that any training we delivered had to be tailored to provide the teams with practical, relevant advice about the things which mattered most to them. At the same time, however, we knew we couldn’t ignore the core principles of Agile – after all, any initiatives they launched would need to be underpinned by a solid theoretical foundation.

To balance these requirements, we held individual one-day workshops with each of the teams. While these all began in the same way – with an introductory overview that set out to answer the question ‘What is Agile?’ – what followed was as unique as the teams themselves.

Prior to the course, they’d all been invited to select a live project that they thought would benefit from the application of Agile techniques, which was then assessed by our specialist consultants during the training session. This interactive, collaborative approach enabled us to go beyond the building blocks of Agile and give advice that truly reflected real-world opportunities, contexts and challenges – drawing on all the experience we’ve built up over years of running Agile projects ourselves.

Checking in with the university a couple of weeks later, we found that sprints had been started virtually as soon as the training sessions had finished – highlighting the benefits of an approach that combines the practical with the theoretical, and the general with the specific.

The benefits of Kanban

As the teams began to reap the rewards of our Agile training, they attracted the attention of other departments from across the university. Box UK was soon approached the Innovation and Business Engagement team who were looking to build a new working structure following the merger of several disparate teams.

Once again, we kicked off our engagement with an introductory Agile training course, to provide the team with a baseline of knowledge that would help them get the most from subsequent, more targeted activities. These took the form of interactive workshops that introduced the team to Kanban – a highly visual way of working that helps keep track of project tasks, sets limits on work in progress, and reduces the risk of misunderstandings that can easily snowball into major blockers.

Taking a holistic approach, in these workshops Box UK’s consultants covered the theory and mechanics of Kanban, assisted the team in setting up their own Kanban board, and provided guidance on key interactions associated with the approach, such as retrospective activities and stakeholder management.

This enabled the team to overhaul their working structure and introduce a more transparent and learning culture, away from the siloed nature of their previous approaches. By embracing Agile’s iterative and feedback-driven nature, the team has also been able to continuously improve how they work, in response to changing priorities, requirements and working environments – including the near-global lockdown caused by Covid-19.

Armed with the necessary processes, practices and behaviours, the Innovation and Business Engagement team were well-prepared to transition to remote working and did so with minimal disruption. And through ongoing retrospectives, they have been able to reflect upon and tweak their processes still further, identifying opportunities to increase efficiency and bring the whole team on board with this new way of working.

For the departments at Cardiff University, Agile has delivered benefits far beyond their expectations, providing a lifeline in the most challenging of situations. If you too want confidence in your ability to deliver no matter what happens, get in touch today, and discover how we can help you.

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