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UCD Agile's role can best be summarised as helping the faculty and staff of UCD ‘make the best use of our resources to the best effect’.  Our focus is on the support ecosystem in the broad sense - all those things we put in place to create the environment in which education and research are enabled. 

We work with a wide spectrum of colleagues from across the campus - Schools, support units, teams, offices, projects, initiatives, individuals, committees etc. - providing a wide spectrum of supports.

This post outlines the answer to the question "How can Agile help me?"  Local contexts differ: how does what Agile has to offer map onto your context?

Make the best use of our resources to the best effect

Best use


Best effect

efficiency, effectiveness

people, teamwork, collaboration, time, money, materials

'customer' focused, value drive, strategy aligned, sustainable

Three kinds of outcome are looked for through our work – to improve the value and excellence of what we do, to empower staff through developing their skills and the confidence in using them, and to nurture the continuous improvement culture which supports and enables this.

A quick comment on language

‘Team’, ‘business’ and ‘operations’ are used throughout the following.  For the purposes of this discussion, any group that comes together to achieve some defined outcome is a ‘team’ pursuing a ‘business’, and what it does in order to achieve its intended outcomes is ‘operations’. 

Indeed, the ideas apply to individuals with individual responsibilities too, and can reach into the research lab and the classroom, not in the detail of the research or teaching itself but in how those environments are operated so as to support the research and teaching.

Agile's Four Steps Back model

operations managing planning and strategy - stepping back from the front line

‘Frontline operations’ are where the doing gets done –intention, need, effort and resources are turned into outputs, supports and services. 

Taking a couple of steps back, we get to where the managing and control of front line operatings takes place. 

And taking two further steps back, we get to where the strategising and planning take place, shaping the intentions and commitments we use in managing what we deliver at the front line. 

This ‘four steps back’ model frames how Agile can bring its various supports to bear.  

The three broad contexts for working with Agile

Front line

Frontline folks are typically highly committed and have developed the success of their services and processes over time. 

At the front line Agile gets involved in training, workshopping, improvement initiatives, projects etc., as well as supporting colleagues in how they meet the challenges and develop the opportunities they have identified.  This work looks to the efficiency (‘doing things right’) and effectiveness (‘doing the right things’) of operations as well as to how the team measures success – value to beneficiaries, alignment with strategy, sustainability.

Two steps back

Front line management can be heavily focused on delivery, often not having, or not having been asked to have, the time and energy to step back, to better understand what business they deliver, to more consciously choose how to deliver, to better target the time and effort they put into improving, to get the supports they need to innovate, to better align with strategy, to more readily measure success in terms of UCD’s ultimate purposes - education and research. 

Success in delivering operations, ironically, can be a challenge as stepping back from the day to day can feel like a threat to that success and less important than frontline needs being met. It can be easier, in some senses, to respond to a crisis than to choose to make success easier.

Taking these two steps back to look at operations management, Agile helps teams explore how they run their frontline businesses, part of which may then involve working with Agile’s help on improvements etc. 

Agile’s works on the basis that if teams are better able to manage their area they will be better at meeting the University’s needs, better positioned to use the supports Agile can directly provide at the front line, and create a better environment for the team itself.  Work at two steps back develops the ‘empowerment’ and ‘culture’ elements of Agile’s brief.

Four steps back

At four steps back an area is doing its overall thinking, with Agile providing support in developing strategy, through reflective processes and workshops, through creating business overviews, and through enabling the broader conversations around how the area can fram its aims and plan to achieve them.   

The investment which an area puts in ‘four steps back’ provides a foundation which can help get the best from their ‘making the best use of our resources to the best effect’ goal as a significant part of ‘best effect’ is aligning operations with strategy in a sustainable way. 

Strategy and planning provide the context for the management and delivery of operations: operations provide significant inputs into planning and strategy.

At four steps back, the agenda is naturally driven by the area itself.  The emphasis is not, by definition, on operations but on strategic intention and direction.  Agile’s involvement in this kind of work is based on the premise that in helping an area shape its purpose and objectives this will in turn create a clearer context for its opearations and a positive pressure for change in UCD.

Who we work with

Front line

Individuals and teams who wants to address a local challenge/opportunity.

Two steps back
- running the team’s business

Teams and team leads, line management, Head of Unit or School who wants to take ‘two steps back’, reflect, look at challenges or opportunities, and plot ways forward. There are two main modes here - where a team uses Agile’s support in addressing a particular project/initiative and where a team uses Agile’s support in identifying and planning what it will do. The second of these can then give rise to the first.

Four steps back
- strategising and planning

Head of Unit or School, team leads, line management - those who are embarking on a strategic journey of some kind with their local area. They may come to Agile at the “I was just thinking…” phase or with a more specific “Can you help me with…?”  The conversation begins with an exploration of needs and what Agile can offer in helping meet those needs.

It is of course the case that these are not three discrete contexts but are strongly interwoven: without clear strategy and direction the front line cannot readily be prioritised or guided; without a clear means to translate ideas into action, strategy can end up gathering dust on a shelf.  

The kinds of supports Agile can provide

In pursuing the three outcomes – delivering value and excellence, empowering staff, developing the continuous improvement culture - Agile provides a variety of services to Schools, Colleges, units and teams.  Consulting engagements may be for a one-time need or on an ongoing basis.  The best way to explore how Agile may be of help is in an initial conversation, exploring possibilities.

  • Initial exploration and scoping of (improvement) opportunities/initiatives
  • Strategic direction development, planning and implementation
  • SOAR workshops
  • Operational remit reviews
  • Mentoring and coaching in the broad Agile space
  • Rapid improvement events
  • Visual management deployment
  • Group facilitation
  • Process improvement initiatives
  • ‘Why Statement’ workshops
  • New technology in service delivery workshops
  • Experience mapping
  • Training for individuals and teams - for more details.
  • Support workshops for individuals and teams

UCD Agile also supports the broad community through its sponsorship of Work Smarter Together ((opens in a new window)http://worksmartertogether.ucd.ie/)

Contact Agile is you wish to explore how we might work with you on any of the above. 

Last updated on 04 September 2019

Please feel free to contact us at (opens in a new window)ag(opens in a new window)ile@ucd.ie or via our .