Adrian Pyne on episode 37 of The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire

“How can agility help remote and hybrid teams work better?” Find out in this episode of Appfire Presents: The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire.

Project expert and author Adrian Pyne explains how going Agile can help remote and hybrid teams to be more effective. Adrian unpacks the factors that make Agile especially well suited to distributed teams, including the collaborative behaviors that are built into agility and the level of trust required for it to work.

About the guest

A project professional for more than 30 years, Adrian Pyne has led change in 11 industries and in the public sector, in the UK and abroad. Adrian is the author of Agile Beyond IT: How to develop agility in project management in any sector.

About the show

The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire covers everything you ever wanted to know about PPM by talking with project management experts who’ve seen it all. And every episode is 10 minutes or less, so you can get back to changing the world, one project at a time.


For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

How can agility help remote and hybrid teams work better

Kerry:  Today we’re going to address the question how can agility help remote and hybrid teams work better. To answer that question is Adrian Pyne, a project management professional for more than 30 years. Adrian has led change in 11 industries in the public sector in the UK and abroad. He’s also the author of the book Agile Beyond IT: How to Develop Agility in Project Management in Any Sector. Stick around for 10 minutes of valuable project management info.

Adrian, thanks for joining. So many teams became remote during the pandemic and now are back and sort of hybrid or just stayed remote. How can agility help those teams to work better?

Adrian:  Okay. When this sort of started, I think it started maybe six years ago. There’s a software company that works in the data security sector, they were a startup six years ago, and the then CEO is a guy I’ve known, a very good friend of mine, Lee Grant, and I’ve worked for him several times over the last 23 years. When he was starting this business with some partners, he said, “Come and help us out.” 

One of the things I said was it’s very obvious that even the partners are in different countries and you just want to attract the best people, so why not be a virtual organization right from the start. Some years later, on comes COVID, and they as a remote organization basically kept going. It made almost no difference to their operations. A company called Wrangu, just for interest’s sake, and Lee has given me permission to talk about them and kind of use them as a case study.

The other thing is that I helped them develop an Agile culture right from the outset, which not all of the partners got to begin with. 

Kerry:  They weren’t on board to begin with?

Adrian:  They weren’t on board with the need to deliberately build an organization culture. They all knew about agility, in terms of software development, because four of the five partners were software people. So, they all knew agility and used it, but they were new to running a business and they didn’t understand the importance of organization culture.

We kind of got around that by saying let’s just build this and how the company operates, what the operating model is, and out of that hopefully we’ll form a culture that supports how you want to work. I asked them, “How do you want to work? How don’t you want to work?” One of the things that came out of that was we’ve all been working in offices for 15 to 20 years, and we don’t want to do that, we want to have much more balance and quality of life, even though we’re trying to get this business going, and we want people that come to work for us to have a good balance as well. 

So, they came up with what evolved within a year or two into the Wrangu family. It started off as just being an organization that people liked to work for, they could work from home, but there was lots of social stuff going on as well. They had a very flat organization, so people worked good. If they were stuck on something, they were encouraged to stick their hand up and say, “I’m not sure about this, I need some help.” I’m sure you know that in a lot of organizations calling for help is seen as a sign of weakness. Around the remote working, there was a lot of trouble, and still is, with that because of a lack of trust by organizations into their employees.

Kerry:  I heard that some leaders are firing people because they won’t turn their cameras on during Zooms and stuff. Isn’t that crazy? They talk about trust.

Adrian:  There you go. So, the remote working, their whole culture and operating model came out of agility. They’re saying, “How can we adapt to the way we’re working, to be as flexible as possible? Not just in terms of our process, but in terms of how people interact, how people can go and get help, how we work with our customers.” 

So, they actually built their entire operating model around this idea of remote working, supporting each other, and that’s how it started. It has evolved a good degree of maturity. They now have a three-month very structured onboarding process for anyone coming in, which is not just about teaching them about the company and how they work, but it’s also about very much a series of sets of training, coaching is built-in. Mentoring is built-in because a lot of their new employees are people who are new graduates or recent graduates in the last two or three years, so they’ve got that energy, but they’re young people who have a lot of learning to do about the workplace and the world of work. 

Having the discipline to work basically in your own home to do what is required of you is quite a discipline, but it’s something that attracted a lot of people to Wrangu as an organization. 

Kerry:  What about Agile do you think makes it well suited to a remote environment? Is it because it’s customer-oriented or outcome-oriented, it’s not just milestones and you have your eyes on the prize the whole time?

Adrian:  Exactly. You’re actually spot on. What they have in there is an absolute focus on why we’re doing this and what happens if we’re not successful. That’s part of it. Everyone gets focused and refocused on that all of the time.

The other side of that, and this is where agility can be a really good model, it’s not the only one by any means, but it can be a really good model because of the collaborative behaviors that are built into agility, because of the level of trust that is required for agility to work. It doesn’t happen by accident, as Wrangu have found. As they grow bigger, they’re still finding that their Wrangu family approach remains viable, and there is no reason why it can’t remain viable with 100 people, or 1,000 people, or 10,000 people. Even most large organizations function as a set of smaller units, and you just have to get the culture right so that it can spread out throughout the whole organization.

Kerry:  How do you do that? There are a lot of companies now that are hybrid or remote, they’re not necessarily Agile in the true mindset sense of the word. How do you help that along? Let’s assume that leadership is bought in, because if they’re not, it just won’t work. Let’s say they are.

Adrian:  In a sense, this is maybe the sales pitch for agility. There is certainly a great deal of evidence to show that Agile organizations are more profitable than non-Agile organizations. In fact, PA Consulting produced two really good papers on this in 2021. McKinsey have produced stuff. There’s loads of evidence out there. 

Also, if you look at major sector disruptors like Amazon in retail and Tesla in automotive, they may not identify themselves or define themselves as being Agile organizations, but there is a huge amount of agility built into how they operate. They have absolutely disrupted, certainly Amazon in the retail sector.

The lesson there is with organizations in sectors that are starting to be impacted by disruptors, if you don’t start to move toward a more Agile business operating model, then it doesn’t matter how profitable you are today, tomorrow, in one year’s time, two years’ time, five years’ time, you may not be here anymore or you’ll be a fraction of the size you are now. It’s an imperative. 

Remote working is one aspect of that. I know full well that certainly in the UK a major challenge in many sectors is just getting enough employees. I first noticed it when all of the COVID lockdowns finished in the hospitality sector, hotels struggling, restaurants struggling, and everything, but it has moved beyond there. Even Wrangu are struggling, even with their model and the Wrangu family culture, to attract people because a lot of their competitors have moved to remote and hybrid working. So, one of their big differentiators is no longer there because a lot of other companies have moved the same way.

Remote working, or at least hybrid working, not just for younger people, but has been and is now seen as being an important means of attracting and retaining staff. Agility as a model for building that kind of culture can certainly help to move in that direction.

Kerry:  Appfire is a remote organization, and I quite like it here. Adrian, thanks so much for joining. 

Everyone, if you want to pick up Adrian’s book, it is Agile Beyond IT: How to Develop Agility in Project Management in Any Sector. Highly recommend it. 

If you’d like to see more episodes of The Project Portfolio Management Show, some of which feature Adrian, you can find them at Hub.Appfire.com. Thanks. We’ll see you next time.

Last updated: 2022-11-22

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