Blog #8 Agility is a given… isn’t it?

Which blindfolds are inhibiting your ‘agile’ success?

In the last two to three years, almost every employee in a top tier company has heard the phrase “We’re going Agile!” from their CEO, Exco Team or Senior Leaders. Why? Well naturally… because everyone is doing it. Companies like 3M, IBM, Spotify and Microsoft are all using variations of Agile to get new products into the market faster. CollabNet1 (A Gartner recognised leader in Agile) estimates a 71% reduction in project costs using Agile frameworks while Gartner themselves view a business agile mindset as critical to creating value from a Project Management Office in a digital economy2.

So, what’s all the hype about? You will be familiar with the concept of pre-release video games and beta-websites where specific users are given an opportunity to review the product/service before it is launched to the general public. These feedback opportunities allow product owners to identify bugs, learn about the market’s appetite for the product and ultimately make an informed decision about whether to launch, hold (until all or most of the bugs can be fixed) or cancel a project entirely. The ability to launch the simplest version of a product/service (also known as a Minimum Viable Product) and then make changes and updates based on real user feedback is what sets agile apart from traditional project management frameworks. The end result is that the final version of the product launched to the market is produced at a lower cost (as defects were identified early in the prototyping stages) and the product/service is rapidly adopted (as the user feedback was used to enhance the product’s features). Agile is also great at identifying projects early on that may not be successful which translates into massive savings on project development costs and is one of the main reasons why Agile approaches have become so popular.

Clearly Agile is the way to go! And yes, for many organisations (particularly start-ups) this is 100% true. As with any project management framework however, there are pitfalls. In large organisations, these pitfalls can be showstoppers. The very nature of agile implies speed and flexibility which is a direct contradiction to the monolithic environments on which organisations are built. Agile frameworks require highly specialised and organised teams (scrums) that work to strict deadlines (sprints) to achieve specific results (user stories/epics/MVP). Because agile teams are driven by strict timelines, there is no time to wait for internal processes such as financial information, legal approval and/or marketing input hence agile teams are highly autonomous and will ultimately completely overhaul your current BAU processes in the interest of time and user experience. The brilliance (and the downside) of Agile is that there is no place for ego. If your process sucks, it gets canned. If your process works, it gets made better. One might even consider going agile just to stress-test your existing processes. The reality is that if you aren’t doing it, your competitors are finding the gaps and your ‘contracts’ won’t be enough to retain your customers.

Just as agile requires highly accountable squads, employees require bold and decisive leadership when issues or conflicts arise. Simple processes such as how an organisation shares information can cause massive internal conflicts when the ‘gatekeepers’ of key information become defensive about why and how you intend to use the information. Agile organisations, on the other hand, will create new processes to assist with these information flows because the directive from the top is to assist these teams 100%. In some cases, employee KPI’s include a measurement on how well Agile teams are supported in order to deliver.

Reducing costs and internal red tape is wonderful for the business but going agile within the business should ultimately reduce processing time, cut down the paperwork, get products to market faster and improve or remove products that no longer work. These are all features that customers desire and will position your business as a brand that cares about customer experience. The rapid expansion of FNB’s digital portfolio from app to mobile provider and the success of eBucks is evidence of how successful your business can be if you just keep your customer’s needs top of mind.

Most businesses are not even aware of how cumbersome their processes are for their customers and employees. This is attributable to the blindfolds that organisations have become accustomed to wearing. These blindfolds are typically related to:

1) Poor or non-existent feedback mechanisms between customers and decision-makers

2) Business silo’s and poor information flow

3) A ‘we’ve always done it this way’ attitude/ unwillingness to change

Which in our opinion all result from:

4) Discordant leadership and the lack of a unified vision/purpose within the organisation.

Agile frameworks place these common blindfolds at the centre of project design and delivery so that the business can no longer ignore how their processes or culture affects internal efficiencies and ultimately how customers perceive their brand. Organisations then have the opportunity to ignore or improve and in today’s business landscape, there really is only one choice…. improvement.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this lightning review of Agile and some of the common pitfalls. In our last blog in this series “Assumption is the mother of all F*ckups” we will talk about some of the blindfolds that lead to really bad decision making and result in lost opportunities and revenue.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to our guest blogger Tanya Dreyer for the collab on research, input and writing this blog post, I hope you’ll agree whilst agile is critical to business growth, without actively addressing the areas that make the process redundant it’s unlikely you’ll experience the success it can bring your organisation. 

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