It seems like everyone is attempting to be more ‘Agile’ nowadays. But what does this actually mean for your area of the business? If we clearly understand the underlying principles of Agile working, we can make more informed choices as to what aspects to try out in our reality.
Our clients have very different definitions and focus areas:
- Agile methodology – a set of tools and approach to projects including Scrums, Standups, Kanban etc… Before you dive into the tools, are you clear on the principles and purpose of using these so that you can effectively adapt them to your complex world?
- Agile structure – Chapters, Tribes, Squads or similar as per Spotify or ING bank… How can you best adapt these ideas to make it work at scale in your complex, virtual, global reality? What mindsets and skills will need to shift as well as structure?
- Organizational agility – the capability of a company to rapidly adapt in response to changes in their market. Our clients are using this to mean anything from Flexible working, Lean practices or operating in VUCA environments – what does it mean to you and how can you best achieve it?
You may be aiming for one, two or all three of these. What’s important is thinking through specifically what you’re trying to achieve, what principles and tools you need to adapt to do this, and how to apply them in a complex, matrix, virtual and digital environment (this has not been so well tested or developed so far). The original Agile manifesto states “individuals and interactions over process and tools”.
So what are the principles underlying Agile working?
How are these principles being used?
Originally pioneered by software development teams, the principles of ‘Agile working’ are now being adopted by a range of different business areas – from strategy development to marketing, often with dramatic results. For example, using agile techniques at the R&D department of John Deere has compressed machine innovation cycle times by as much as 75%.
What does this look like in practice?
Agile techniques involve forming a small multidisciplinary team to solve mission critical problems that can be broken down into chunks and focused on for a umber of 1 to 4-week sprints.
A team initiative or product owner creates a backlog of issues that key stakeholders inside and outside the business need addressing and ranks these in order of greatest value to stakeholders and customers. The agile team is given the top priority to work on, but then left to self-organize as to how to break it down and decide what can be achieved in each sprint.
The focus is on rapid release of minimum viable products or initiatives with early and regular feedback from customers – rather than endless research, documentation or chains of approval. Agile working fits best for problems that require people to work closely together to solve – so rather than wait for weekly meetings, daily 15-minute meetings are traditionally held to report progress and share any impediments.
However, a word of warning: ‘agile methodology’ isn’t suited to all types of teams or projects – firstly, you need to be able to chunk the work into 1-4-week sprints and secondly the work has to be very interdependent for it to be worthwhile following this process. Agile teams also need to be able to effectively interface with other parts of the business, such as support functions, that don’t work in the same way.
It’s important to make the distinction between following ‘Agile methodology’ on the one hand and being an ‘agile organization’ that can respond quickly to customers and changes in the external market place – the latter being something all modern, digital organizations must strive for.