I am sure by now you have heard about agile, companies big and small like Amazon and Google are using agile to manage work. You may be forgiven if you wonder why agile is used more and more for managing work and projects.
If you still think Agile is good for managing software projects only, you are making a big mistake. Not only all projects can and should use Agile, but organizations as a whole should also become Agile too.
The headlines are everywhere, companies who embrace/deploy Agile project management in their workplace are eating the world. So why Agile? because it is proven to work and get results.
Too bad these companies do not advertise how they organize their workforce and share with everyone the amazing benefits they get from turning their companies into Agile enterprises.
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The old ways of the rigidly structured workforce and work rules don’t cut it anymore. In the brave new world of the twenty-first century, things change fast, really fast!
Technology is evolving and changing at a record pace, the information/data we consume every day gets bigger and is multiplied by many factors every month.
The time we have to analyze a mountain of data and make work-related the right decisions are getting shorter and shorter.
The traditional models of managing projects/work like the waterfall method and hierarchical team structures are too rigid to respond to the insane pace of change an organization goes through every day.
We are in an unattainable situation and sooner than later the way we work will break down. If we don’t adapt and adapt soon to these changes, we will be left behind and vanish as an enterprise.
This is a fact that close to 60% of all projects fail or finish late and over budget. To fix this problem we need to move to an Agile method of doing things.
The question for every manager should not be why agile, but how to become agile.
You ask why Agile? I am glad you asked. In this paper we will cover how to quantify and qualify the benefits of Agile and how do you go about implementing agile in your organization.
First things first. The bad news; Bringing Agile to traditional organizations is not easy. It is really hard. It takes a lot of time and effort to make an organization agile.
The Good news; Your team’s productivity goes way up and you make a ton of money when you become a fully Agile organization.
To be clear, your whole organization from top to bottom needs to adopt the Agile way of doing business. You can’t piecemeal this process.
Some executives try to take a middle ground and make the development team Agile. Although this is better than nothing, you get the full benefits of Agile only when the whole Organization is Agile.
What is an Agile organization?
An Agile organization is a lean organization that can respond to new events or challenges fast, almost in real-time.
In such an organization, decisions are made fast using the available data. To make this possible, the organization constantly collects data on all aspects of its business, the competition, and the market.
The characteristics of an agile organization are:
- Lean and flat structure; not more than 2-3 layers of management. If your organization has excess layers, cut it down to 2 or 3 layers max.
- Rapid development; You need to adopt rapid product development. The shorter the time it takes you to introduce new products, the more successful you become.
- Using technology to automate everything. Not using the technology to streamline your work is foolish.
- React fast to both internal and external challenges. The longer the time it takes your organization to react, the bigger the disadvantage you have.
The benefits of an Agile Organization
To adapt to Agile, you need to know the Agile’s benefits and its shortcomings. Is Agile for everybody? Probably not, but most teams benefit when they become an Agile organization.
- Higher productivity for your team
- Higher quality of products and services
- Lower cost or product development
- Faster to market release of products
- More customer satisfaction and retention
- Lower risk for product delivery
- Faster return on investment (ROI)
- Faster reaction time to events and changes
- Greater flexibility in feature releases
- Better read on customer’s needs and wants
- More stress on the team if not implemented correctly
- A high organizational learning curve
- Not easy to scale
- Requires highly skilled and multi-functional team
- Lack of predictability
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How to create an Agile Organization
Recently Mckinsey & Company published a great article on this subject. Forbes and Harvard Business Review also weighed in on the same subject recently.
In my view, you need to develop/nourish the following 10 traits, to create an awesome Agile organization:
- Startup mentality- To become Agile you need to think like a startup. The sense of urgency, the focus on one goal, and each member wearing multiple hats to solve any problem.
- Collaborative environment- Agile teams collaborate. Without collaboration, you can’t become an Agile organization. Using collaboration, the sum of the organization’s knowledge is greater than the sum of each individual’s know-how.
- Performance orientation- Members of an Agile team are evaluated based on performance. The only thing that matters is the results. Traditional organizations have all metrics for evaluating an employee. In Agile only the result matters as long as no laws are broken getting there.
- Flat and servant leadership- The old model of leadership does not work anymore. If you want a great example of today’s leadership, don’t look any further than Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. The new leaders are doers and not rulers. They don’t issue commands but earn respect and command by being in the trenches with their teams. If you have too many layers of management, you are severely handicapped to be an Agile organization.
- Clear strategic vision- Clarity of goal and mission is the best enabler of success. Agile organizations have a clear, focus, and simple strategic vision. This vision is written down and viewable by every member of the team 24/7.
- Information Transparency- Agile organizations don’t hide/restrict information to their members. Everybody on the team has access to the same data and information. This helps to avoid confusion or misunderstanding when making decisions.
- Customer-focused- Agile teams are focus on the customer more than anything else. As the saying goes, the customer is the king or queen.
- Continuous Learning- An Agile organization is a living and growing organization. It strives to acquire more knowledge and know-how to do better and outsmart the competition.
- Entrepreneurial Spirit- Entrepreneurs take risks. Organizations that don’t tolerate mistakes and risk-taking can’t become Agile. In Agile organizations, it is ok to take risks and occasionally be wrong. The objective is to try and find better ways of doing things. If along the way, mistakes are made that are part of learning and are accepted as part of doing business. Your goal as a business owner/leader should be to empower employees to make fast decisions when needed.
- Lean and flexible resources- In the traditional hierarchical organizations, resources are kept in silos and can’t be shared and doing things out of their job definition. This creates organizations that have extra fat. Agile teams are lean and could be shared across any problem or need.
How do you know your organization is Agile?
In Agile everything is measured and quantified. So, how do you know if your organization is highly agile? or moderately Agile or not Agile at all? PMI has written on this subject extensively.
To be a Highly Agile organization you need to have implemented the following 10 traits/characteristics in your organization.
- Every product/project needs to have a product owner. Ownership brings responsibility and accountability.
- Your organization needs to be collaborative. Without proper collaboration, your team can’t be agile.
- Your organization needs to be customer-focused. By putting the customer at the center of everything you do.
- Your organization needs to have a flat management organization
- Team members should be empowered to make decisions
- Your Agile team needs to use technology to gather business data 24/7
- Accept and embrace continuous product improvement
- Implement a time box approach. Set fixed deadlines for delivering products and keep the scope flexible.
- Set many milestones during the product lifecycle and make sure each milestone is measurable and tangible. Each milestone needs to be a step toward the final product delivery.
- Create a transparent work environment. Everybody’s work should be known and visible to everybody on the team. The project manager should have the same view as the CEO or any other stakeholder in the project/product.
To be highly Agile, your organization needs at least 8 of the above traits. If you have implemented 5 out 10 of the above recommendations your organization is moderately Agile. Anything less makes your team, not an Agile team.
If your organization is not already Agile, you better hurry up and make the changes needed to become one.
If you still asking why Agile? Just remember what Amazon is doing to retail companies and what Google and Facebook are doing to publishers and newspapers.
So the questions should not be why Agile, but how to go the agile route.
To survive you need to adapt to change and adapt soon. I can think of few industries that the Agile approach will not affect.
Health and defense industry plus government agencies don’t feel the heat of Agile behind them. I believe this is temporary.
Soon every human endeavor that affects a large group of people will be somehow or other be Agile.
That is why Agile is so important for the future of your projects and your organization.