Efficient, effective and fast. Incremental, iterative and dynamic. These are some of the words most associated with agile development methodologies. But attempting to mimic the features of agile alone, without a fundamental adoption at an organizational level, could lead to frustration.
The drive toward Business 4.0 readiness, for example, is based on delivering outcomes that help the organization meet the needs of increasingly sophisticated customers. And the businesses that shape their organization to meet the needs of those customers stand to encounter fewer major obstacles.
Here are five key takeaways for organizations with a focus on agile to help them deliver value and stay ahead of their competitors.
1. A question of philosophical proportions
How do you see the world around you and your place in that world? Perhaps you live in a deterministic world. A world where there are set goals, objectives and targets – a world where planning is key.
This has been the prevailing business outlook for as long as anyone can remember. But the agile organization sees the world differently. There is, of course, always a need for strategy and for planning too. But in an agile world there is something very different – a belief in the process.
It’s not unlike the way in which scientific experiments have discovered something different from what they originally intended. Penicillin is one example when Alexander Fleming noticed a culture growing in a petri dish was killing nearby bacteria. You may set out with one objective in mind but if, along the way, you discover something unexpected but just as valuable, it’s perfectly valid for that to become your new objective.
When you trust in the systems and processes you leave a purely deterministic outlook behind and move on to a new way of thinking. But that’s a huge leap for some organizations. Like so much in life, it’s easier if you’ve always been that way inclined than if you’re trying to retrofit a significant change. Amazon is a great example of a business that eschews traditional deterministic thinking. But then it always has.
2. Agile needs everyone
According to the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, there are four key qualities of agile leaders – humility, adaptability, vision and engagement. These are addressed in its report Redefining Leadership for the Digital Age.
It means that leaders can take advice and guidance from those they lead – including empowered subject-matter experts – and adapt their strategies while remaining faithful to a well-communicated vision.
But if an organization is trying to adopt agile structures and methodologies, there needs to be a thorough understanding and acceptance of this all the way to the top. Traditional organizations have three-year plans and five-year forecasts, that kind of thing. That’s how performance is measured – here are the goals, this is the timeline for getting there, and this is the progress we’re making towards them. It’s how investors and shareholders expect an enterprise to present itself.
Breaking away from those structures, which would be a consequence of an agile approach, risks opening up a gap between the performance and perception. The challenge for senior leadership is to bridge that gap and resist the temptation to revert to old structures which can be stifling.
3. Agile works everywhere
If you have a great team that is based together and works well together, you have a lot to be thankful for. But not all teams are situated together. From multinational organizations, to smaller enterprises with highly-skilled remote workers, many teams are distributed. If that’s your reality, agile can still work – as long as you work at it.
Traditionally, two teams would be given separate parts of a project to work on. They would work on their own, occasionally comparing notes and progress. But in an agile environment you need a new way to organize your teams. Things need to be more fluid, more organic. A project will be split between two, or more, teams who will challenge and support each other in equal measure. If one team makes more progress with a particular problem, they will then take the lead with it. The ability to inspire and critique each other’s work is vital to making headway, and is more important than an adherence to old structures.
4. Prioritise work by breaking it down
At its heart, adopting an agile methodology means being able to move quickly enough to get away from the reliance on huge systems and processes that defined older ways of working. Break projects into their component pieces and empower teams to work on them.
The challenge for many organizations here is that their infrastructure has probably been configured to do something very different. The use of shared services across organizations is commonplace – it’s one of the cornerstones of operational efficiency. It’s part of a strategic outlook that seeks to minimize costs wherever it can.
Expecting teams to minimize the amount of time a project takes calls for a very different perspective, one built on having smaller teams that are empowered to make more decisions, and a reduced use of shared services to fuel that autonomy.
5. Rapid feedback
The best plans and strategies can flex just enough to withstand external changes. That could be shifting parameters, an adjustment to regulations, plus input from colleagues and peers. There are many reasons for in-project changes.
So, build frameworks that encourage everyone throughout the team to provide their feedback, particularly in the event of change or at key milestones. The faster you can factor in that feedback the more likely you are to avoid bumps in the road as the project rolls on.
Not only can this save time, but if one seemingly small change has the potential to hamper the productivity of others in the team, you simply have to know as soon as possible. After all, predictions are good, and plans are great. But nothing beats learning from the evidence you have in front of you.
The three core Business 4.0 themes – being agile, embracing risk, and exponential value – will be discussed in depth at TCS Summit Europe 2018, which takes place in Budapest from 26-28 September.