What does it mean to be agile in 2019?

Posted on May 8, 2019 - By Samantha Garcia

In the world of software development, “agile” is a commonly practiced concept used to innovate faster and deliver continuous, quality iterations of a product in a world that changes regularly. It involves small, self-organizing and customer-focused, collaborative teams who accept and adapt to change quickly while figuring out what does and does not work. As a result, constant improvements are being made. Due to the enormous success of agile methodologies in software-focused businesses, many other organizations are beginning to follow suit.

Additionally, larger companies are working to spread the concept to other departments, such as legal, finance and human resources. While these new principles, values and practices can be difficult for traditional organizations to develop, implementing agile can be crucial to a company’s growth these days. However, an agile approach isn’t always effective in certain operations as it calls for the right conditions. Nonetheless, to be agile means embracing entirely new mindsets, values and attitudes for the sake of surviving in a rapidly-moving economy with ever-changing demands from consumers.

How Agile Companies Work

Agile methodologies used today are derived from the Agile Manifesto, originally intended to uncover better ways of developing software. By following agile principals, companies of all industries can become more adaptive, collaborative and flexible to changes in the market. As a result, they are able to deliver products more quickly and efficiently in small increments while collecting valuable feedback. This feedback can then be used to make improvements as necessary.

Instead of taking months to complete certain tasks, agile teams can knock out projects in shorter periods by working simultaneously on various tasks. These cross-functional teams are referred to as “squads”, usually consisting of three to nine employees who each carry a unique set of skills. These shorter periods, typically lasting one to two weeks, are known as “sprints”. By breaking complex tasks into simpler and smaller portions, teams are able to estimate their work and identify issues much sooner. Agile teams typically hold frequent “stand-up” meetings to review the results of their experimentation and identify any barriers. This way, they can shift their focus and achieve their goals much quicker without any major setbacks appearing later down the road.

The Benefits of an Agile Approach

Due to the success of agile companies, such as Apple, Google and Spotify, more companies are interested in adopting the approach. While some companies are integrating agile in certain departments, others are undergoing full transformations to align all departments and their priorities under a common vision.

This way, departments utilizing traditional management techniques aren’t hindering the innovative progression of those benefiting from agile practices. For example, development teams cannot be successfully agile if their supporting functions remain stuck in their traditional ways. How will marketing plans established well in advance respond to new competitors if the marketing team does not anticipate them?

Agile methodologies have proven to save time and money by minimizing wasteful activities. These include ineffective meetings, repetitious planning and excessive documentation. Instead, employees can spend time on things of value. More specifically, things of value to the consumer. With the needs of the consumer always in mind, agile in the workplace ultimately enhances customer satisfaction.

Additionally, it boosts team productivity and employee satisfaction. Based on an independent study completed on a sample of over 8,000 projects, agile teams or “squads” are 25 percent more productive than conventional teams. These teams put a lot of emphasis on communication, allowing for more effective collaboration and increased accountability. If a team member fails at completing a task, the rest of the team is aware of the impact immediately because they work so closely together.

As these teams work to complete their sprints efficiently by making continuous deliverables, they are able to get immediate feedback on their work rather than waiting until a project is fully completed. This saves time by allowing teams to identify roadblocks and find solutions. By assigning tasks to teams, senior managers can take a step back to focus on prioritizing strategic initiatives and finding ways to reinforce the company’s vision. Through collaborative and transparent efforts from driven employees, these companies are able to deliver quality, innovative products and services faster.

Becoming an Agile Company

Start-up companies are well-known for being agile because they are flexible and can quickly adapt to changes, make rapid decisions and deliver fast and minimal solutions. Not to mention, they spend little time focused on unnecessary documentation. However, in efforts to become established and stable businesses, these companies begin to focus on redundant and wasteful practices. They create too many layers of management, rules and policies that ultimately slow down their operations.

While it is important to structure and create an organization that has a strong backbone, it is also important that companies remain dynamic and are able to adjust their resources when necessary. To become agile means to be resilient and learn from failures. It involves collaborative teams that are responsive and act quickly to get things done. However, this is much easier said than done. In order for a company to benefit from agility, it must:

  • Have the right conditions, meaning its market preferences are frequently changing and customer involvement is high. If market conditions are predictable and there are no customers available for collaboration, agility may not be the right approach. While marketing projects tend to thrive on agility, routine operations, such as accounting and sales calls, do not.
  • Introduce agile slowly and small, to let the word spread organically like a domino effect. Begin with IT as software developers are more familiar with the practices. These teams will then promote agile by endorsing how well it works and other teams will be more eager to accept the approach. When integrating agile in other departments, hire a coach to provide training to employees without a software background.
  • Create a leadership team that practices what they preach, agile methodologies. Senior executives should also incorporate agile into their work to encourage engagement throughout the company. Agile leaderships should be responsible for coordinating and establishing squads, defining the highest priorities and identifying any barriers that hinder change.