Paul Harris, executive director of Customer Experience at Curo Group, discusses the benefits Agile frameworks can bring to the housing sector
It is very easy to pick holes in the Agile frameworks businesses have been using for the last 20 years or so – some writers have created a career out of it – and to misinterpret Agile in several different ways. But I think Agile offers the housing sector something far more than a better way to deliver change initiatives.
It is worth providing some clarity up front. I hear many people talking about Agile – particularly since the pandemic forced us all to innovate and adapt – in the sense of virtual working.
We’re Agile because we’ve maintained our services without being in the office. In my view, this is being agile with a lower case ‘a’. Being flexible, adaptable. Agile with a capital ‘A’, however, specifically relates to the Agile frameworks that require training and commitment to understand and then deliver.
“While I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and nonsense talked about Agile, one thing is absolutely clear – you need commitment from the top”
And there are the myths. It only works for IT/digital projects. You must restructure your entire business. You need to invest significantly. Et cetera… None of these is true.
What I have found most illuminating about our journey into Agile – and we are still at the start of this – is how the methodology and thinking can create momentum for cultural and leadership change faster than traditional methods.
We chose to follow this path at Curo because we could see an incredible amount of alignment between Agile and our ambitions to create a more collaborative, innovative business.
For some time, we have grappled with how to improve services that span departments, where misalignment or misunderstanding can leave teams working at cross purposes. Additionally, we have often struggled to deliver and realise the full benefits from our change projects, with the project team at times battling with the internal client.
It is early days, but these issues appear to be perfectly surmountable using a different approach.
But leadership is the area that most excites me in this context. While I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and nonsense talked about Agile, one thing is clear: you need commitment from the top.
Read more about Curo:
- Curo starts work on affordable housing scheme in Weston-super-Mare
- Somerset council confirms large Curo housing development
But this is pretty much true of anything. The principle of lifelong learning is vital here, and organisations with leadership teams who are willing to show vulnerability, accept and learn from failure, and embrace change may find that Agile thinking can yield a huge amount more than better project delivery.
At Curo, we have taken a pragmatic and flexible approach to moving into this sphere. We are not the first to try, we are not the biggest, we do not have the scale and flexibility of larger organisations; so we are piloting an approach that makes sense to us. We have not slavishly adhered to everything in the framework we are using (SAFe), but we have taken the mindset and attitude very seriously.
This has meant training every one of our senior managers (from CEO to heads of departments) and rolling this out further to more than 180 colleagues.
Early indications are positive, but if nothing else, this has given the whole business an opportunity to reappraise and better understand and embed crucial concepts, which can only make us stronger.
A sector facing huge investment challenges due to key issues such as safety compliance and decarbonisation will need to create significant efficiencies while maintaining or improving its customer ethos and culture. Agile could be part of the solution.
Image: Paul Harris, executive director of Customer Experience, Curo Group
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