Remaining Agile

Each year, like most people, I take some time to reflect on the previous year, think about where I want to go in the new year and what it’s going to take me to be there. While I think about this on both personal and professional fronts, this year I’ve found myself thinking about one thing: agility.

I’m a dad of three (ages 5, 3 and 5 months) and coming out of an incredibly wild 2018. We sold a house, I got a brand-spanking-new-job with one great team, started traveling like wild, welcomed a new baby (girl!) into an already pretty busy family of four and moved states. I think there are a number of reasons I made it through 2018 in one piece, but top among them all (other than my incredible wife) is the willingness to remain agile.

The majority of my work takes place in the technology space and with an MBA, remaining agile is something I’ve learned to incorporate into all areas of my life. Whether it’s being able to quickly negotiate (yes, I do negotiate) with a toddler (and so do you if you have one) over what’s on the menu for dinner or shifting priorities and tasks on a project to get it to deadline on time, remaining agile is a mindset and one I actively encourage our clients to assume.

Agile is a word that gets tossed around a lot and means many different things depending on your lens. While we do develop software at RHB, when thinking about our work in the CRM space we’re solely working with established tools. Our view on agile is often at the intersect of development and project management and so we think about the four pillars and twelve principles from different angles depending on the specific task. At the heart of all of this however is our focus on relationships and collaboration leading to successful projects.

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

CRM is a strategy. The processes you put in place, the tools you use, they’re all secondary to the actual efforts behind bringing a campus behind a relationship management mindset. The processes and tools are the method of delivery. The strategy starts with your team and trust is a huge component. Agile Principle #5 reminds us to “support, trust and motivate the people involved”. I’ve written previously on how I believe implementation teams should be structured, but understanding the true relationships on your own campus is instrumental to the successful launch of any tool. Unlike other consultants who offer Slate services, we’re not going to help you implement a system you don’t understand. We want to work with you to build a product that is maintainable, sustainable and approachable by staff of all technical aptitudes. Implementing a new tool can seem scary to staff as it oftentimes comes with a serious deviation from how things have always been done. But by seeking feedback, refining as you go and encouraging your team to share their ideas, you’re already leagues ahead in implementing successfully.

Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

Once you have the human component figured out (or let’s be honest, figured out as much as you possibly can), you can begin thinking about the tools at hand. If the tool doesn’t work, no amount of documentation is going to get you where you need to be. Luckily, if you’re reading this, chances are again, you’re not developing software. You’re an active user or you’re about to purchase a system. So let’s interpret this a bit differently through an Agile Project Management lens. When we conclude an implementation, there are a series of documents, videos, and training components that we deliver. Why don’t we provide these up front? Because we want to assist you in getting your system running. Whether you’re working with RHB through a Technolutions Slate implementation or working through it on your own, don’t get lost in the details of documenting every step until you’ve built your processes out. This aids you in remaining agile because it allows you to change direction, redesign, and reshape processes without having to constantly worry about updating documentation time and time again. Tied to Agile Principle #12, this process also allows your team to reflect on how things have been built to date, how they might be modified and how these changes impact the next phase of the project.

Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

Collaboration is at the heart of any successful venture. If you’re implementing a new tool, interpret this as being open to your colleagues’ ideas, wish lists, and recommendations. Do you have to implement them all? No. Can you solve every problem? Absolutely not. But you can listen. And through listening, there’s a great chance that you’re likely to find an efficiency or at least an opportunity to explore building a process that benefits someone else. When we enter an agreement with an institution, we stress that collaboration is key to the success of the initiative. Specific to Slate implementations, we will not enter into a contract with an institution that is not invested in fully evaluating processes, open to change, and most importantly, dedicated to working together to bring the system live. Our goal is to provide sustainable solutions that institutions can maintain on their own. Without institutional investment and commitment to the project, you’d simply be left with a tool you don’t know how to use, sustain, or enhance.

Responding to Change over Following a Plan

Ah, change. We offer six-week expedited implementations of Technolutions Slate CRM. When we begin these agreements, we make it very clear to our clients that, provided all processes and documents are available, accurate and perfect at the onset of the project, we can bring the foundational components of an instance live in that timeframe (or earlier). While we have had great success with all of our clients, we’ve had two come close to that exact timeframe. Most implementations extend for a few extra weeks because the clients we work with have an agile approach. And while that deviates from a project plan, that also makes us happy. In some cases, responding to change has meant enhancing a decision letter from a simple accept into a customized letter including merit scholarship amounts set by a series of 100 rules and extensive liquid markup. A bigger lift and pushed timeline? Yes. But it means that we discovered possibilities with our clients that they were previously unable to realize. It means that our clients are open to reshaping processes. And it means that our clients aren’t in the “we’ve-always-done-it-that-way” mindset. Assisting institutions in the implementation of a tool like Slate is an unbelievably professionally rewarding experience because we’re able to see the change in people, practice and process.

Regardless of whether you’re implementing a new technology on your campus this year, I’d encourage you to consider an agile approach to your professional life. Everything we do comes down to relationships and our experiences. We’d love to talk with you more about what that looks like on your campus.

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Alex Williams

Alex is the Vice President for Marketing Integration at RHB.