Why Your Business Needs to Be More Agile

Use of agile methodologies are becoming increasingly widespread as businesses both large and small strive for success in a rapidly changing world.

For those who are yet to embrace the change, it is important to appreciate how this ‘philosophy’ can positively impact business productivity, operations, employees and bottom line figures.

Agile 101

Before we delve into the benefits of agile methodologies, it is important to understand what it means to be ‘agile’.

Agile is an organisational approach to delivery that holds companies to a set of principles ensuring the seamless functioning of business activities.

Originally championed in the software development space (an area well versed in rapidly changing technologies and market demands), the use of agile methodologies has now become popular across the business spectrum. From the likes of John Deere to GE, companies in all industries are choosing to deploy agile methods of working across their business functions.

The ever-growing need for organisations to be flexible and adaptive can in part explain the growing success of agile.

So, what does it take to be agile?

Firstly, create small, self-managing teams. Each team will host members with a range of skills from design and development to testing.

Second, break large complex business tasks into sizeable activities which are prioritised by the initiative owner (sometimes known as the product owner). The initiative owner is not however, responsible for assigning activities within a team; this instead is done by the process facilitator who is responsible for guiding the team.

The team then tackles tasks in short bursts called ‘sprints’ which are normally 1 – 2 weeks in length.

The team is expected to hold daily meetings to discuss progress and highlight issues, giving them the opportunity to reflect on progress made so far and quickly change tack if necessary. They will also work closely with end users in order to retrieve relevant and timely feedback. This gives them the opportunity to make quick iterations to design and development if necessary.

Benefits of Agile

Businesses that have adopted agile ways of working have seen compelling benefits, in turn strengthening its case as a viable operating methodology. The key benefits are summarised as follows:

Shorter production cycles

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate, from disruptive new technologies to shrinking product life cycles and rapidly changing customer demands. These changes are forcing organisations to adapt and deliver at a faster rate than ever before.

Agile methodologies enable a faster time to market, making it possible for organisations to quickly create and launch new market propositions which can subsequently be modified and added to. The ability to quickly deliver a viable market proposition, means that organisations can start capitalising on existing market demand. Some of the most successful organisations today did not launch with bells and whistles, just look at the first Uber website – a long way off from the market-leading taxi service we now know.

Agile methodologies appreciate the long complex goals the organisation hopes to achieve, but also allow this to be broken down into sizeable tasks that can be completed within 1 to 2 weeks. Standalone, the sprints might seem insignificant, but once cumulated, these contribute towards the creation of sophisticated propositions built around the consumer.

Reduces project risk

Short sprints allow organisations to test ideas without jeopardising the whole business model.

Upon completion of a sprint, the organisation can quickly obtain feedback and assess the viability of the outcome. The agility of the set-up allows organisations to minimise risk through regular market feedback.

This continuous loop between feedback and development means that the organisation can quickly change direction and avoid costly mistakes by building the right product from the outset.

Improves customer satisfaction

Agile is not just about improving delivery rates. The approach also aims to place customers at the forefront of commercial strategy.

Agile methodologies seek to deploy rapid test-and-learn procedures to understand customer requirements. Feedback and monitoring of performance metrics including customer satisfaction and product uptake mean organisations can deliver more relevant products which will directly increase customer satisfaction and sales.

Increases team productivity and morale

Agile encourages smaller, more flexible team structures, with an emphasis on shared ownership and accountability for the workload. Increasingly fluid roles encourage autonomy amongst employees, which allows them to react faster to change as and when it is deemed necessary.

Regular meetings encouraged by agile methodologies enable employees to highlight progress, raise issues and determine the necessary next steps in a prompt manner.

Increasing the level of regular engagement with employees will in turn make them feel more valued, increasing productivity and improving customer retention.

Furthermore, shorter production cycles with direct feedback from the end user and business stakeholders helps contribute to a more optimal output and cuts out wasted efforts. Likewise, the agile frameworks are set up such that employees can focus entirely on one task and ensure it is completed to the highest standard.

Encourages continuous improvement

Agile methodologies help companies strive towards continuous optimisation. By establishing a clear feedback loop of planning, delivery and review, agile methodologies help companies continuously learn, develop and optimise.

Increases organisational transparency

Agile increases the level of transparency within an organisation. By aligning employees towards one common goal, there is a shared understanding of what the organisation is aiming to achieve and, in turn, a greater sense of cohesiveness.

Furthermore, by soliciting customers throughout the development process, there is a greater appreciation among all stakeholders that they are working towards a necessary and meaningful goal.

How to Implement Agile Methods of Working

Considering all the positives of agile, there must be due appreciation that not all business functions are suited to agile ways of working. Agile methods of operation will not work well for routine business operations (e.g. accounting). Furthermore, agile will fail where organisations uphold rigid bureaucratic structures (and sometimes changing company culture is not always possible).

However, in instances where agile methods of operating can be deployed, organisations must make sure that there is cooperation across the whole business, and that those departments that do not adopt agile methodologies still understand and support other divisions that do.

Relevant education and training

For many organisations, agile is a fairly new concept, and so there is an expected degree of friction amongst employees when implementing these new ways of working due to lack of familiarity and impending change.

In order to overcome this, businesses must take active measures to familiarise employees with the new methods of working by providing training and education.

Align leadership

Training and education are not just relevant for junior members of an organisation, but also for those at the top.

Implementation of agile is an evident shift from rigid structural hierarchies towards a flatter, more balanced system. As such, leadership teams must be open to change and appreciate that agile teams are self-organising and do not require constant monitoring.

Define teams clearly

Despite the clear notion that agile is a movement away from set structures and hierarchies, it still requires the creation of distinct teams with clear accountability and ownership. This ensures that high priority tasks are tackled first, and iterative and necessary changes are made in a timely way.

The successful implementation of agile requires organisations to rethink their existing talent structures including training and reward schemes.

Rethink planning and budgets

Unlike traditional waterfall methods of operation, agile facilitates fast moving, multi-faceted team structures. Therefore, senior management responsible for planning and budgeting must also make the necessary changes to facilitate this new way of working.

Set up structures to appropriately receive and act on feedback

Organisations should ensure all feedback received from customers is taken onboard, in order to retrospectively analyse the project completed. Feedback received will have a direct impact on the sequential tasks still to be completed, therefore appropriate and timely processing is necessary.

Invest in the relevant technology

Agile requires a continuous loop of planning, building and reviewing. Implementing relevant technologies to facilitate this process is important. Systems such as Jira, Clubhouse etc are ready-to-use technologies that can facilitate business progress.

In Conclusion

Agile can be a powerful operating methodology for businesses if implemented correctly. However, transitioning a business to this new way of working can be costly as it requires training, time and resources.

Nevertheless, as organisations try to navigate an ever more complex global marketplace, it would be naive to overlook this methodology for legacy structure and procedures.

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