Agile lessons for managing fast moving data technology environments

2020 was a year of significant change for Xyenta, as it was for many companies around the world. At the same time that the challenge of Covid-19 was pushing us to learn new ways of operating as a team, we were embracing new technologies, new partnerships and new opportunities. 2020 was a year that demanded we be agile.

When we launched our new website last year I wrote a short article that highlighted how business can learn from the agile structures of professional cycling teams. Then in October the Giro d’Italia provided specific examples of the importance of individual performance in agile team success.

Team Ineos Grenadiers lost Geraint Thomas, their team leader and pre-race favourite, at the outset of Stage 3. There was no ready-made Plan B and so a team with a history of grinding down the opposition started to chase breakaway stage wins. The first such win came in Stage 5 when Filippo Ganna took the win in a manner which “…was immense, and it filled everybody with confidence” (Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Principal).

 The team built on this platform, and a string of strong stage performances positioned Tao Geoghegan Hart to take the leader’s jersey for the first time on the final stage.

Another team, without the grand tour heritage of Team Ineos Grenadiers, took their first Grand Tour victory on Stage 8. Just as Ganna (the world individual time trial champion rather than a climber) had been in the breakaway to work with his team mate better suited to the stage’s rolling terrain, Alex Dowsett was in the 6 man breakaway on Stage 8 to work for his team. By the time it was clear that the winner would come from the breakaway, Dowsett out-thought better climbers to time an attack and then use his time trialling strengths to stay ahead in an 18km solo ride to the line.

Dowsett’s individual performance gave his team, Israel Start-Up Nation, their first Grand Tour stage win, and also secured Dowsett a new contract with the team for 2021. That counts as a good day in the office.

These wins demonstrate that rather than trying to manage every variable, success results from having a clear goal, knowing your strengths, and focusing on managing only what is within your control. The above stories provide lessons for any agile delivery team working in complex and fast moving technology environments:

  • Do what you can to stay in the race so that you are in contention when there is an opportunity
  • When something does not go according to plan the team will need to recalibrate and find their new rhythm
  • Never lose site of the goal, no matter how uncertain the path ahead. As the race proceeds the number of variables will reduce and become easier to manage
  • Ultimately, individual ownership will enable the team to succeed