Agile was born as an iterative approach to software development. Since then, it grew beyond the IT field. Now companies apply Agile workflow across industries for everything from marketing to developing hardware and aerospace engineering.
And the reasons for that are entirely obvious. They include an impending economic crisis, an unstable business environment, increased competition, market transformation, shift to customer focus culture, and many more. All of them force companies to seek a more flexible approach to running a business.
If you are no stranger to these challenges, it’s the right time to consider Agile values and principles as a new direction in uncertain times.
I’ve been practicing Agile for around six years. First, as a software development methodology, and later for other processes in the company – marketing, human resources, etc. From my own trial and error experience, the shift to an Agile mindset is full of challenges.
It took us a great deal of time until we worked out an Agile adoption strategy that perfectly fits our company goals. As a result, we managed to improve workflows, increase business performance, get higher revenues, reduce time to market, and satisfy customers.
That is why I’ve packed what I learned into six simple steps. They’ll help you reform business processes with Agile thinking within a much shorter time frame.
A Six-Step Guide to Make Adoption of Agile Workflow a Success Story
Step 1: Explore the Agile Concept up and down
Most businesses start shifting to Agile without a clear understanding of the concept.
There are two reasons why you need to dive deeper.
Firstly, it is expectations. You need to understand how this set of rules works to define a clear-cut intended outcome.
For instance, even in software development, we start a new project by acquainting our clients with the basics of Agile terminology and workflows. For this purpose, we wrote a step-by-step guide (mindk dot com) in other words, an Agile tutorial. It helps people understand what to expect from the process and determine areas of responsibility.
In case you are unfamiliar with the Agile, its main idea, as a software development methodology, is to split the project into small parts (called iterations). Each of the iterations focuses on releasing a small valuable piece of the product as quickly as possible and learning from the feedback. Besides, this feedback is used for further improvements.
Secondly, you need to define your ability to apply Agile workflow or adjust it to the needs of your organization.
One of the authors of Agile Manifesto, Dave Thomas, says that to improve the agility of the whole organization, you should follow a cycle of simple actions, namely:
- find out where you are at the moment;
- take small steps to your goal;
- adapt your understanding given what you’ve learned; and
Сonsequently, business agility is all about taking baby steps and continuously checking whether you are moving in the right direction.
Short Success Story: PepsiCo and Agile mindset
Here is a case in point.
In 2017, global food and beverage leader PepsiCo suffered a decrease in growth rate. Searching for a way to boost top-line growth, the company came to an Agile mindset.
By adjusting its principles to their internal needs, the company balanced the adoption of new technologies with a focus on clients and staff. For PepsiCo, agility meant a less formal, less rule-based, and more fruitful way of working. Hence, this venture led to a completely new company culture, better growth rate, stoked innovation and increased employee satisfaction.
Step 2: Check out Precautions and Challenges
Although Agile can bring huge business value, it is more successful in certain situations than in others.
As far as the whole Agile software development life cycle relies on flexibility, teamwork, and transparency, it’s adoption in large organizations may present certain challenges. As it means applying changes across the entire corporate chain, starting from processes to operation, culture, and behavior.
The most critical thing Agile workflow demands is a shift in behavior.
Thus, large organizations need to understand that embracing Agile at scale may reveal certain problems. Some of them may not be evident when embracing Agile for individual projects or within small and medium-sized companies.
Additionally, there are certain types of projects when full Agile adoption is questionable. They are mostly long term projects with a stable set of requirements where mistakes may be catastrophic for the whole company.
On the contrary, Agile suits well for projects where the problem is complex, solutions are still unknown, changes are possible during the process, and the team works in close collaboration.
Such conditions are common for several processes like product development, marketing campaigns, supply-chain operations, sales activities, recruiting, allocation of resources, etc. While for others, like accounting, legal branches, or other types of strictly regulated units, using Agile may be challenging.
However, challenging doesn’t mean impossible.
The best way is to analyze the operational model of departments in your company and decide which activities are better suited for Agile. That is, where you can break a complex problem into parts and hand it to a multifunctional transparent team.
In this way, you are proceeding to the next significant step.
Step 3: Draft a Kick-off Plan
Starting has never been easy, so start small.
For a start, identify the part or parts of the company you want to transform and how. After this, decide what Agile practices you will use, taking into account all the elements like processes, people, technology, etc.
Do not forget about Agile enthusiasts that will drive the adoption inside the units and defining time frames needed for such a transformation. This is how Agile adoption happened in one of the leading enterprises in winemaking, Mission Bell Winery.
The company decided to use Scrum (one of the most popular Agile frameworks) to meet the criteria of Safe Quality Food Level 2 certification. They introduced Scrum training, set a goal, and appointed Agile pilots in each department.
After they noticed its positive impact, the company continued implementing Agile and increased the yearly finished goods inventory process by 90%.
Step 4: Build a Shared Vision
Business results are a collective effort. Moreover, employees feel a personal and emotional commitment to their work when they work towards a common goal. This rule works perfectly in the Agile transformation process, too.
Thus, a clearly stated vision is more than a values statement or a mission. It is what guides your company through changing environments. It presupposes that all team members should base their work on the same list of priorities.
A shared vision during the Agile adoption will help you measure the progress and success, as well as make major decisions.
For example, CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, states that one of the pillars of their success is explicit and transparent purpose statements on all the organizational levels. The whole company is operating like a city, where decentralized decision-makers are united by common values.
Step 5: Adopt Experimentation and Continuous Learning at All Levels
Innovations are intimately related to Agile. In general, we can define innovation as an effective application of creativity that focuses on building a solution to cover people’s problems most cost-effectively and flexibly.
This is exactly what Agile does.
The process relies on experimenting, testing, and learning from mistakes.
This is great for startups, but other organizations can benefit from Agile workflow, too. Just think about how your company works toward developing business strategies, or guidelines to senior executives, or product launch strategies.
As a rule, these processes involve too much guessing and assumptions. In the end, you might even find out that you followed the wrong plan.
Instead, try to involve the stakeholders during the whole process, keep yourself up to date, thus ensuring your team focuses on what really matters. Testing, creating “safe to fail” tryouts, and learning from mistakes gives you a great opportunity to respond quickly to changes.
This is the heart of Agile experimentation.
This is how micro failures you can afford to prevent you from macro failures you can’t endure.
Embracing the iterative agile lifecycle to building machines helped the farm equipment company John Deere to shorten the innovation project cycle up to 75%.
Previously, they required about nine months to identify a new market opportunity and five to ten years to develop the product and bring it to market. With the Agile approach, they can go from idea to a working prototype in just eight months.
Step 6: Shift from Authority to Partnership
The organizational structure of traditional companies is synonymous with hierarchy – relationships between superiors and subordinates.
Agile organizations reject authority. Instead, they opt for autonomous cross-disciplinary teams. This requires partnership based on freedom, trust, mutual respect, and managing by agreement. Without this critical shift, Agile is a waste of breath.
Besides, leaders in agile companies are not inspectors. They focus their efforts on supporting rather than micromanaging. They are creating environments where each employee is welcome to contribute to the process, take part in problem-solving, and take over the responsibility for the results. The seniority in such teams rests on the depth of knowledge and behavior.
Massive two-year research by Google found out that one of the common characteristics of high-performing teams is a sense of psychological safety. It makes employees feel comfortable, talk openly, suggests ideas, and be comfortable enough to admit they don’t know something or disagree.
Introducing Agile workflow to the legal team of the largest travel guides publisher Lonely Planet helped to improve productivity by 25%. Previously, the team suffered from exhaustive daily demands, lack of transparency in priorities, and unrealistic deadlines.
Business Agility: Key Takeaways
Implementing Agile thinking throughout the firmly established company is no easy thing.
However, these steps are the pivot point in Agile adoption, and they focus on changing the mindset of the business. Sure, it is only a start, and much more work should be done further.
But a correctly applied iterative approach will enable companies to move faster than before, drive innovations, and adapt to the changing environment of here and now.
Remember that any attempts to implement Agile practices independently may fail until they are combined with an Agile mindset!