Being agile in business today means you’re flexible, fast and adaptable. While agility has been a necessity in the fast-moving world of software development for some time, creating a structure that allows for rapid innovation is good for any business, regardless of the industry or functional area in which they operate.
So how does an agile approach work and, perhaps more importantly, how can your business adopt it?
How businesses stay agile
A key advantage of the agile approach for businesses is that it enables them to change how they tackle problems and projects. Rather than defining the whole project and setting a “way forward,” an agile approach has you take things much more iteratively. From a practical standpoint, that means meeting as a team on a frequent and regular basis to share problems and successes, and then making improvements as needed.
Say that your executive team meets every two weeks — not for long, but long enough to look at their processes and output, and then decide on any needed changes. Everyone on the team has a say, and you get a chance to review and learn as you go.
That’s known as being retrospective: What worked before? How is it different now? What do we do about it next? It’s really just another name — and another system — for continuous improvement.
Agile allows room to experiment
An agile approach gives you the chance to try new methods, while constantly reviewing progress.
Unfortunately, that’s a completely foreign idea to most businesses. All too often, businesses tack a review process onto the very end of a project, which often limits the amount of value that can be derived from lessons learned.
Being retrospective and only trying things for a short period means you can try and fail faster. That might feel inefficient at first, but in the long term, organisations are more likely to see a trend of continuous improvement — and innovation. Frequent review meetings will show some often surprising benefits:
You will have more opportunity to experiment. By only spending, say, two weeks trialling a new idea or solution, the impact on business is lower. If the trial doesn’t work, you can scrap it and try something else.
You will be able to identify problems before they cost a lot of money or cause a lot of damage. With an open forum where people can make connections and agree on changes, improvements are a given and your work culture gains strength
Your estimates will be more accurate. When you examine processes and outputs more regularly, trends are quickly identified and consistency is easier to achieve
Individual team members will develop confidence, gaining a better view of the company and the value of the contributions they make to it
How to Flex Your Agile Muscle
You may first think, “I don’t have time for all this.” After all, this could come off as a little too self-indulgent, a little too much like navel-gazing.
Taking an agile approach to work, however, takes a great deal of discipline. Just like you need regular exercise to keep your body agile, making your business agile requires commitment. But like exercise, that commitment to an agile approach pays ample dividends in the end.
You might be working in a traditionally rigid company, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a start on your own team’s agility.
Here are nine steps to make an agile approach work
Begin with the discipline of regular and frequent meetings. Discuss your problems and pain points.
Think about the best set-up for inclusiveness — a round table, post-it notes or a white board.
Leave hierarchy at the door. For the duration of the meeting, everyone is equal with an equal opportunity to contribute without interruption.
Discuss process, not people.
Keep each meeting short. Raise multiple issues to begin with, then agree on a few clear actions that should be accomplished right away.
Share all actions — don’t leave everything to one person to handle.
Meet again in two weeks. Discuss the actions of the previous meeting and determine which ones worked (as well as which ones need to be reconsidered or require a different course of action).
Repeat steps 3 through 7 and build a rich, agile team culture.
Don’t ask permission, just do it. When you’ve run long enough to show some genuine business benefits, take your results to senior management.
The Retrospective Effect
From the start, you can expect a range of outcomes from your meetings. Some may be big issues, but many are about your team culture — how you work together and how you problem-solve. Often, you don’t see any of these things unless you take the time to stop and look, regularly and often. In other words, be agile.