The 5 agile red flags for charities

Tilt's logo with white text on a blue background
Tilt's logo with white text on a blue background

The 5 Agile Red Flags

We regularly bring together a group of charity leaders who are embedding agile ways of working in their organisations. They asked us “what might indicate that agile ways of working are being set up in a way that’s likely to fail?”. It’s a great question! We reflected on what we have learned through supporting multiple UK charities to embed agile working. We also looked at wider research. Then we compiled our top 5 agile red flags, along with green flags you can work towards instead.

The 5 agile red flags:

  1. Agile viewed as something you ‘do’
  2. Leadership style isn’t changing
  3. Focusing on what’s wrong
  4. Lots of talking and planning
  5. Messy is a concern

Red Flag 1

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Agile is just viewed as something you ‘do'

You can recognise this red flag when: 

  • Agile working is seen as something done on top of day jobs. 
  • Agile is seen purely as a project management tool. 
  • ‘Agile’ tools like Trello are being used but within extensive and limiting plans. 
  • You hear people saying “I don’t have time to do agile”.

Instead, green flags are when agile is seen as something to ‘be’; as a way to achieve your goals more effectively. We get excited when we see agile ways of working viewed as a mindset focused around principles. Another green flag is when we see teams and organisations continually evolving their agile ways of working. 

Red Flag 2

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Leadership style isn't changing

You can recognise this red flag when agile ways of working are seen as something that only teams needs to be. You might hear leaders saying “How can I get my team to be more agile?“.

If we hear this red flag question we often flip it to ask “how can you adapt your leadership style to enable your team to work in a more agile way?”.  Both teams and their leaders need to be adapting their ways of working. As a leader this involves taking a coaching approach, stepping away from the ‘what and how’ and instead creating trust and transparency.  (More on this here from Boston Consulting Group)

Red Flag 3

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Focusing on what's wrong

We believe that the key to creating a more agile team or organisation is everyone believing that they are agile. So, while we are all for identifying and clarifying what’s not going well, we have seen folks get stuck there for too long. Instead, we have seen the most success when people set a positive vision and build on what they are already doing well to move towards what is wanted. (Tools like the constructive rant can help you do that). Green flags are when we see folks shining a light on, and building on, useful approaches that are already working in the organisation. 

Red Flag 4

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Lots of talking and planning

You can recognise this red flag when you are spending a long time deciding the perfect place to start.  Or, when you hear “we need to understand exactly what this will look like before we act“. Too much talking and planning can cause paralysis.

Instead, green flags are when we see folks getting started, regularly reflecting on what’s working so they are learning their way forwards. We get excited when we see leaders and teams experiencing agile ways of working directly for themselves. This is how excitement and interest about agile spreads naturally throughout the organisation. Counterintuitively, delivering something small with a cross functional team is a great place to start. (Hear how Prostate Cancer UK kick started their organisation wide transformation with one fundraising success). Design Sprints can also be a great tool to get going quickly, too.

Red Flag 5

Agile red flags for charities icon

Messy is a concern

You can recognise this red flag when your team or organisation is:

  • Taking a purely top-down approach to embedding agile.
  • Taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach
  • Embedding agile in a waterfall way with detailed plans
  • Rolling out agile ways of working more widely before they’ve nailed it in one area.

Instead, green flags are when people expect it to be messy at the beginning. This often looks like starting with small experiments to learn what works well. We hear teams and leaders talking openly about the uncertainty, ambiguity, failures, and learnings. They are Embedding agile in an agile way.

Over to you...!

Wherever you are in your journey embedding more agile ways of working, these red and green flags can be a helpful guide. You might:

  • Reflect on the red flags with those you work with – which red flags do you see happening around you and how might you move further towards the green flags?
  • Use the flags to inform your measures of success for your how and where you are embedding agile. 
  • Use these flags when speaking with your leaders about embedding agile ways of working.

We love to talk about this, so if at any point a more in depth chat would be useful please do get in touch!