In Search of Balance: Agility with Consistency

In Search of Balance: Agility with Consistency

Insights | 10 October 2018

The famous transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Yet we know that process consistency is at the heart of effective project and programme management.

Perhaps the key word here is “foolish.” It’s all about striking the right balance, for your company and for your industry – and that takes a tremendous amount of energy and focus.

Here are our top 4 tips and refreshers to help you find equilibrium:

Tip 1: People First. “People do not change their mental model of the world by speaking about it — they need to experience the change to believe and feel it,” writes Barry O’Reilly in the Project Management Institute’s report, The Drivers of Project Agility[1].“This important research confirms that it takes a mindset shift to nurture more collaboration, exploration, and innovation. Success doesn’t happen in a straight line. The market may change, customer needs fluctuate, and ideas evolve. If we cling too tightly to an idea or method that doesn’t work, then we’ll go down with it.”

At the same time, O’Reilly, who is also co-author of Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organisations Innovate at Scale, doesn’t forget the importance of consistency. He goes on to talk about the need for metrics, systems, consistency and routines around reviews and new approaches to allow agile outcomes to flourish.

Tip 2: Be Clear on Trade-offs.[2] Take the time to articulate the true costs of inconsistent processes and align on a shared understanding of what agility really means. Inconsistency kills agility – agility is at the core, all about speed. A new solution to every problem is not agility and comes with a high cost.

This theme was echoed by the founders of Agile. At a 10-year retrospective[3], they identified several themes and remaining impediments. One was around clarity and alignment throughout the value stream.

“At the front end of the process, business goals, strategies, and objectives are often not clear. This results in a flat or decaying revenue stream even when production of software doubles,” they wrote. “For this reason, everyone in an organisation needs to be educated and trained on how to optimise performance.”

Tip 3: Focus on Simplicity. Perhaps a new, updated spin on the Emerson quote might be: “Over-complication is the true hobgoblin of consistency.” Consider how tools can help you simplify processes and reinforce consistent processes. There is a need for simplification through information management. Here is some advice we’ve offered through the years shortened into three actionable tips:

  • Centralise and streamline
  • Move on from bespoke systems and focus on a core set[4]
  • Balance team autonomy (agility) vs. control (consistency)

Tip 4: Measure Success. In a compelling case study involving Australian public sector organisations, project management Professor Lynn Crawford details the importance of measuring success.[5] Take Case “C”, where a lack of consistent measurement meant no one was sure if the company was really on the right track. They believed they were able to deliver high-quality projects, yet were faced with a unique political need to show this to taxpayers, the ultimate stakeholders.

Enter a “fully integrated set of project management tools, covering planning, communication, risk, stakeholder management, and other functions for every stage of the life cycle.” The result included greater levels of consistency and transparency while a benchmarking exercise vastly improved morale.

In a perfect world, agility and consistency would work in harmony, unlocking innovation, speed and scale all at the same time. But, of course, nothing is perfect. Instead, focus on the fundamentals with patience and determination.

If your company requires assistance with project or programme delivery, contact us today on +65 6818 5771.

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