Guest Post by Jug Babic
There is definitely no shortage of debates, opinions, advice and content in general on the phenomenon of Agile. The Agile approach has taken a life of its own and it is thrown around in all kinds of discussions and resources which, unfortunately, often miss the point.
Even more detrimentally, some companies and organizations start seeing it as some sort of a magic bullet that will make all of their problems go away, only to find out that it is not.
And while it is not this business panacea that some people and organizations expect it to be, agile can have profoundly beneficial effects on a modern business, if adopted and adapted properly.
The roots of agile can be found in the software development industry. Beginning with the 1990s (some efforts had been made before, as well), a variety of teams and individuals started experimenting with approaches to software development that would move it from the then-traditional methods which had been adopted from traditional manufacturing and project management.
Over the course of the 1990s, a variety of methods, methodologies and frameworks came to life, such as rapid application development (RAD), the unified process (UP) , dynamic systems development method (DSDM), Scrum, and extreme programming (XP).
In 2001, seventeen of the most prominent proponents of these various approaches got together and they formalized the existing and future similar efforts under the same umbrella term – Agile. They came out with the formal agile principles that formed the backbone of the Agile Manifesto.
Among other things, these principles identified the following as the most important goals of adopting agile:
- Enhanced customer involvement
- Welcoming change
- Delivering products frequently (albeit in smaller increments)
- Close cooperation between all stakeholders
- Simplicity aimed at reducing waste
- Less hierarchical structure
- Constant improvement
Already, it is possible to see why aiming for these would be beneficial, but let’s dive in deeper and see how certain modern business realities can be addressed by companies becoming more agile.
Rapidly Changing Market
You do not have to look long to find an example of how the various global, well-established markets are changing at an unprecedented pace, mostly due to the influence of new technologies.
Despite its recent troubles, Uber has dramatically disrupted taxi services around the world. Airbnb and similar companies have forever changed the way people find accommodation when traveling. E-commerce has been on a rampage, forcing decades-old retail chains to close down their shops (and it’s only just gearing up).
These are just a few examples.
A modern business needs to be ready for change. There is no avoiding and you have to have mechanisms in place that will allow you to appropriately and timely respond to change. One of the main principles of agile is exactly this – to see change as something that is an integral part of every process and to ensure that an organization knows how to take action as quickly as possibly under these new conditions.
Agile organizations are also more ready to adopt new technologies and solutions that will enable them to respond to the changes in the market. This ranges from solutions that support their adoption of agile (such as kanban and scrum tools) to specialized software and tools that will help them with particular aspects of their day-to-day operation. Everything that helps the organization be more adaptable and reduces waste is considered.
More Discerning Customers
Ask any auto dealership owner how the web has changed their industry. Among the first things you will hear is that buyers nowadays know much more about buying cars than ever before. This is not because people are all of a sudden more interested in cars. It is because they can easily do online research and find out everything they need. And it’s not just buying cars.
In addition to being knowledgeable, customer voices are now heard more easily and readily than ever before thanks to social media and other online services aimed specifically at commenting and reviewing businesses.
In such an environment, getting constant feedback from stakeholders and customers is crucial for delivering a product or a service that will meet the requirements. Agile accommodates this through recommending direct collaboration with stakeholders and also through delivering small increments quickly, thus allowing for early feedback and identification of any changes that should be made down the line.
There are a number of industries that are experiencing a talent shortage, making it difficult for companies to find, attract and retain talent essential to their functioning. The occupations which are in demand vary from traditional trades to the most modern areas such as data, AI and blockchain.
The agile approach can help here too. For one, the flat (or at least flatter than usual) hierarchy in agile organizations and teams is a big recruiting point, especially if it is truly present and not just advertised. Moreover, this attracts the right kind of talent – people who are ready to take on the challenges and the responsibility.
When agile is adopted properly, employees also communicate more with each other, disseminating knowledge and improving each other along the way. Top talent knows how to value this. They will appreciate being able to learn from others and to help others become better.
A Few Words of Warning
While the agile approach is definitely something all modern companies should consider, it should also be pointed out that truly adopting it is more difficult than it sounds.
For one, there are certain industries and types of business where many of the agile concepts and practices are near impossible to implement without major modifications that reduce their benefits. Still, even in such industries (like, for instance, food service), certain agile principles still apply and, with some effort, the approach can still show great results.
Adopting agile can also be quite challenging, with resistance from both sides of the spectrum – management and employees. This can be quite harmful as agile needs total commitment from everyone involved in order to work. In order to make all the interconnected elements to work, you have to ensure that everyone is on board.
Finally, you should be aware of the fact that it can take a while before the new agile practices start showing real results. It is a major change and there will be hiccups along the way. In the end, however, agile will start showing results and you will not want to go back to the old way of doing things.
After all, constant improvement is one of the agile principles.
Author: Jug Babic is a marketer at Vivify Ideas. He has been writing about the intersection of technology and business for some time now. He is also a massive NBA fan.