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River Island - using Agile in HRThe 2017 State of Scrum Survey (Scrum Alliance – www.scrumalliance.org) identified that although Agile practices have previously been considered exclusive to Software Developers – the use of Agile and Scrum are now making significant inroads outside of IT and finding acceptance in industries beyond technology.

Exploring this trend further, Nebel Crowhurst (Head of Talent at River Island) discusses how the HR and Learning & Development Team have pioneered the use of Agile and Scrum at River Island and highlights how it can be adopted in other areas of the business such as Retail.


As is the case in many organisations, Agile methodologies were initially adopted by the Technology Team at River Island. They achieved excellent results very quickly, which gave way to curiosity at Senior Leadership level as to how it could be utilised in different areas of the business.

Pioneering Agile in HR

Therefore, to expand the organisations awareness and understanding of Agile, the Technology Team delivered a series of presentations to colleagues showcasing how it can be used, and what can be achieved. This instantly caught the attention of Nebel and the HR Team.

“We were curious to explore if and how the same principles and practices could be applied to our own function. We wanted to pioneer Agile in a completely different area of the business – to just give it a try and see what happened. We weren’t afraid to fail, which in itself demonstrated an Agile mindset.”

After reading Jeff Sutherland’s book The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, members of the HR Team attended agil8’s Certified ScrumMaster course delivered by David Hicks.

“Having developed our skills, knowledge and understanding of the principles and practices of Agile and Scrum, the team were ready to experiment. We were about to embark on a huge project, which needed to be broken down into manageable chunks – and so as part of our first exploration, we decided to just try a single Sprint and see what we could achieve.”

How does applying Agile to a HR function actually work in practice?

“Working collaboratively on large projects has always been challenging as we are a cross-functional service, with members of the team physically located in various premises, so we could clearly see the benefits of adopting Agile.”

Rather than just sampling a few aspects of Agile, the HR and Learning & Development Team fully committed to applying Scrum to their workload and day to day working. This included Sprints, backlogs, daily stand-ups and monthly Sprint meetings.

“The nature of our work translates well to working in Scrum Teams, with Scrum Masters and Product Owners appointed on an individual basis depending on the needs of the respective project. We have daily stand-ups via skype, and everyone gets together face to face, once a month, for our Sprint planning and review meetings.

“We create and work-through product backlogs, reviewing and prioritising items to work on the following month, focusing on incremental releases. The only area that we occasionally struggle with is the monthly showcase, as unlike Tech, our progress can’t always be displayed in a physical format.”

The benefits of going Agile

Although still in the fairly early stages of their journey (less than a year) the HR and Learning & Development Team’s Agile transformation has already proved very successful.

“Improvements to our project delivery have been huge, with more streamlined ways of working and quicker delivery times. We’ve also experienced a number of less-obvious benefits such as better cross-functional working and team dynamics.

“By nature, HR can become quite siloed, and Agile has certainly helped us to achieve more collaborative cross-functional working. The daily stand-ups have also significantly improved our team dynamics and bonding – simply because of regular communication.”

Key to the success

Reflecting on the success of their Agile adoption, Nebel is clear on what she feels has been the most important factor. “Having the right people, with the right mindset is crucial – we’re very fortunate that the HR and Learning & Development Team have a particularly open-minded approach, always willing to try new things, with a real desire to improve.”

This approach has resonated across the organisation, encouraging others to explore how they can utilise Agile.

Piloting Agile in Retail

“We’ve now successfully demonstrated to the rest of the business how Agile can effectively be used outside of Tech.” This piqued the interest of the Retail Team who were really keen to adopt Agile in a similar way but were struggling to see where and how it could be implemented.

“Typically, the 2-week period prior to a new store opening is renowned for being particular complex and challenging. I advised the team to use those 2-weeks to pilot a short Sprint with daily stand-ups, and we performed the ScrumMaster role to support and guide them through this initial trial.”

This proved to be a huge success, and the respective store was actually opened a day earlier than planned. “Opening a store one day early is something that typically never happens – so this was yet another example of the results that can be achieved with Agile in a less-traditional environment.”

What does the future hold?

“The priority going forward is to expand this pilot across retail. We’re planning a number of internal Agile Workshops, specifically developed for retail, to assist with this roll-out.”

Nebel remains typically enthusiastic and excited about the prospect of driving this innovation across the organisation. “The purpose of the HR function is to enable and empower people and the organisation to achieve their objectives – and so supporting this Agile roll-out fits perfectly with our team’s aims and values.”


If you’re about to embark on your own Agile transformation then agil8’s comprehensive suite of fully accredited training can provide the best expertise and support for your Agile journey.

Take a look at our full Agile training portfolio here.