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8 ways the agile process is shaking up business-as-usual

Lavonne Boutcher
Posted by Lavonne Boutcher on Oct 25, 2017 8:00:00 AM

If you need more evidence that agile has hit the management mainstream, look no further than a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. In May 2016, the prestigious general management magazine published Embracing Agile, which described how the revolutionary management methodology moved beyond the confines of IT to become a “radical alternative to command-and-control-style management” in a wide range of functions and businesses.

Companies and organizations, big and small, are turning to the agile process to improve efficiency and accelerate innovation. It’s being used in marketing, health care, financial services, manufacturing – National Public Radio even uses it to plan programming. These diverse groups are all driven by a common goal: “To build things that are better, more quickly and with less of an investment,” says Jason Cusack, enterprise agile coach. “That has certainly become a reason to go explore how they can do that with agile.”

Here are 8 reasons agile is catching the attention of so many diverse businesses:

1. It breaks down barriers

Jason says agile invites the business and technology worlds to join forces in a way that results in a new level of collective intelligence and information sharing. This, in turn, leads to better decision-making. Companies that really want to embrace agile are willing to transform their corporate culture. Gone are the silos that separated departments and people. Instead, a collective team of people from diverse backgrounds works together, bringing a unique set of skills to solve problems.

2. It fuels collaboration

When he first starts working with companies that are implementing agile, Jason says, the first benefit they often see is better collaboration. He says the power that comes from multidisciplinary teams working together can be transformative. The magic of this lies in the mix of skills and insights team members bring to the table as they explore scenarios and approaches.

Agile methodologies are especially powerful in collaborative design. Working together, diverse contributors can bring about a design that’s far better than what they could come up with on their own. “Organizations are taking that and really putting a premium on making sure that they have a whole host of different people who are able to contribute ideas and experiences,” he says.

3. It fosters an agile skill set

The arrival of new technologies and new ways of working is creating a big demand for staff with a unique set of skills, which includes creativity, communication and critical thinking. These soft skills are key to success in an agile environment. Teams have to hone these skills so they can adapt quickly to changing circumstances and find solutions that are creative and customer focused.

4. It enables continuous improvement

Agile takes an iterative approach to getting work done. Short work cycles or sprints of days or weeks create more opportunities for feedback and testing. Jason says he often illustrates the merits of having an ongoing feedback loop by asking people what they had for dinner on a Wednesday six months ago. The blank faces usually make the point that asking teams to fix problems identified months ago is just as challenging and ineffective.

Agile allows teams to review their work early and often and make adjustments as they go. That’s in stark contrast to the traditional “waterfall” or command-and-control management approach that focuses on doing detailed planning and design upfront and testing late in the work cycle when fixing defects can be complicated and costly.

5. It improves efficiency

By keeping the focus on solving one or two problems at a time, instead of constantly switching priorities, agile teams can get things done faster and more efficiently and can learn more from their experience. Jason says, in the beginning, that’s often what attracts companies to agile. Budgets may have been cut or their workforce has been reduced and they need to do things differently. They see the success other companies have had using agile’s lean structure and flexible approach and it makes sense to them.

6. It keeps the focus on what really counts

“There are a lot of big companies now that are embracing this notion of being lean and focusing on value-driven activities,” says Jason. Agile enables companies to identify what’s worth doing. Teams can keep asking questions, getting customer input and using feedback to challenge assumptions and focus on what matters most. As management pioneer Peter Drucker so aptly put it, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

7. It clarifies goals and processes

With so many organizations now having workforces spread across the globe, distributed teams need new ways to work together. Jason says to collaborate effectively, teams need a common sense of what they’re trying to accomplish and how they’re going to do it. He says they need technology tools that are big and visual that they’re able to interact with, like the Nureva™ Wall and Span™ Workspace. Everyone can see the big picture on a cloud-based digital canvas that anyone on the team can easily access and interact with anytime from anywhere. “It gives them the ability to understand what it is that we’re going after and how they can contribute.”

8. It boosts engagement

Jason says companies that fully embrace agile end up with an “incredible corporate culture” that produces engaged employees and satisfied customers. If agile teams are self-managed and empowered to make decisions, they have a vested interest in finding the best solutions. He says that kind of culture brings quality of life back to people so they can enjoy what they do and deliver better products to their customers.

A proven track record

Fifteen years after a group of software developers first wrote agile’s basic principles in the Agile Manifesto, Jason still hears people call it a fad. That amuses him given how quickly agile has become the management approach of choice for so many organizations looking to thrive in today’s dynamic and complex business environment. The agile methodology now has a proven track record of lessons learned and successes achieved. And today, it’s helping a growing number of innovation-focused companies do things differently and do different things.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published September 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Topics: Agile Agile Mindset