If you’re not new to the world of business management, chances are you’ve heard about agile methodology. But how can this promising approach help you transform the efficiency of your company? Let’s find out right now.
What is Agile?
Agile originated in the world of IT projects but is now used to increase efficiency in IT business and non-IT business environments alike. It can be applied both to projects and business operations. Underpinning agile is the well-documented observation that most companies tend to delegate responsibilities and supervise project work plans extremely inefficiently. What’s more, many businesses tend to be extremely unwise in how they dispose of their resources, especially in terms of manpower, finance, and time. Agile is all about the elimination of waste, that is, everything that is not important to the organization. This broad definition of waste means that all of the following are wasteful:
- Delivering projects late
- Projects whose scope includes items of dubious value
- Business processes that add little or no value
The Core Elements of Agile
The first and most important element is to prioritize those things that are important to your company. It means challenging existing activities to eliminate those that add little value and to include new activities and analytics tools that do that successfully. Pay close attention to building the hypothesis at the product inception stage, defining the value proposition of a new product, prioritizing features, and creating the MVP. This can be a difficult discipline to learn, but very powerful when your company is truly able to focus on what’s valuable. If in doubt about what’s valuable to your business, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What’s important to them is probably of great value to your organization, as well.
Finally, it’s important to focus efforts where they’ll add the most benefit or eliminate the most waste. This may sound obvious, but it can have some profound implications in the long run. Compared to a traditional project, which asks us what we want and suggests estimating how long it will take, an agile project asks us how long actually we have got. In other words, agile projects are of fixed duration. So, if it’s necessary to improve the business process, you should spend a fixed amount of time doing it.
Timeboxing coupled with the ability to prioritize is a pragmatic solution to the problems of overrunning projects or process improvement initiatives that deliver diminishing returns. It means the ability to deliver the biggest bang for the buck, which is what most companies want.
Furthermore, working in an agile way requires close collaboration between people who have a need, or customers, and people who build what’s required, or suppliers. For successful agile working, customers and suppliers must form a highly collaborative team. This is important because experience shows that only with high levels of collaboration and communication a company can deliver truly successful solutions.
Barriers to Progress
So, what are the most common roadblocks to agile progress? There are several barriers you should be mindful of.
The first barrier is the fear of change. It’s a rare manager who is not aware of significant shortcomings inherent in traditional management methods. Nevertheless, there is a reluctance to change because organizations have grown used to accepting these limitations or being able to work around them.
The second barrier is fear of loss of control. Traditional managers are taught to exercise control over their responsibilities through the detailed delegation of tasks and reporting of progress. As for agile managers, they learn to delegate high-level objectives only and let teamwork out the best way to meet them. Traditional managers often perceive this as a loss of control. But in reality, the controls are merely different, not lost.
The third barrier is the reluctance to a top-to-bottom culture change. For agile to work well, a company needs to be ready to embrace the approach from the most senior level downwards. In this respect, agile is no different from any other management approach. Everyone in the organization must be prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
The final common barrier is where reward structures run counter to the agile approach. As we’ve explained earlier, agile values core components such as close collaboration in teams, and yet many reward structures tend to reward individual contribution over teamwork.
For the successful implementation of agile methodology, all these factors need to be aligned. Otherwise, you’ll risk sending mixed messages.
New Habits to Acquire
To successfully apply agile practices to your business team, you should learn to prioritize according to your specific business needs. That way, you’ll be able to meet business objectives faster and more efficiently.
Secondly, you should be able to empower your team. This means getting comfortable with setting higher-level objectives and then being ready to step back and let your team get on with it. Of course, you may still need to step in, but that should only be to remove a roadblock to their progress or clarify objectives.
Finally, be ready to promote innovation and learning. This means being responsive to the ideas your team comes up with. Be prepared to act on them and, quite possibly, accept the occasional failure, as your team members learn and innovate. Undoubtedly, your team will become stronger and more productive as a result.