Agility: business buzzword or innovation engine?

It’s been hailed as ‘a workplace revolution’, ‘the key to innovation’ and ‘the future of modern work’. It’s impacting employees across sectors, and it’s being shouted from every innovation blog, tech journal and business management article. Agility is on the rise in the world of work. Indeed, according to last year’s State of Agile report, corporate adoption of agile practices is rising fast. In 2018, 25% of respondents said almost all their teams were agile, a sharp rise from just 8% in 2016.

But what does agility actually mean, and should we believe the hype around it? It’s time to take a look behind the buzzword at the true benefits of agile methodology, and how your organization can truly take advantage of it.

What is agility?

At its core, agility means putting four key pillars into practice, both in project management approaches and within development teams. These pillars are:

Agile: a short history

The term ‘agile’ can be traced back to the 2001 ‘Agile Manifesto’ which laid out a set of practices for innovation. It was originally associated with early-stage startups, facilitating rapid growth through reduced costs, risk and time-to-market for forward-thinking products. It represented a way for developers to ensure quality optimization as well as smooth workflows.

However, it didn’t take long for agile methodology to influence business outside of the realm of the young tech startup. With customer requirements on the rise, and the need for all businesses to offer more personal experiences, large corporations are now embracing agile methodologies, too. Many are embracing agile approaches in a bid to compete with their more flexible startup competitors, and stay dynamic in the face of a constantly shifting market.

Why the struggle?

Despite a wave of larger, more traditional businesses recognizing the benefits of agile methodology, many still struggle to incorporate it effectively into their workflows. So, why the struggle? The disappointing results of agile application in large corporations could be explained by immovable hierarchies, the presence of legacy tech infrastructures, and inflexible corporate workplace practices. Indeed, in a 2018 report on agility, the main inhibitors of agile adoption were an organizational culture that clashes with agile methodologies (53%), a general resistance to change (46%) and insufficient support from management (42%).

However, the reality is that agility can be successfully applied within these corporate environments with considerable positive impact. The secret to effective implementation is getting to the root of agile and applying it thoughtfully, rather than applying agile processes as a quick catch-all solution, without an in-depth understanding of their principles. Frequently, agile projects fail because they lack the crucial infrastructure, foundation and consensus to truly succeed.

To help you access the positive results of agile methodology, we’ve gathered some expert insights into how to apply agility for your business.

6 effective ways to go agile

1. Factor in complexity

With large-scale projects comes complexity. Though all businesses should seek to reduce complexity where possible, agility won’t remove complexity from the equation by itself. So, even with agile workflows in place, be prepared to manage complexity, both on a human and technological level.

2. Don’t stop thinking ahead

Agility is all about being flexible, dynamic and ready to respond to turbulent markets and evolving customer needs. That doesn’t mean doing business reactively, without planning for the future. In fact, thinking ahead and making preparations is crucial to making a success of agility, so don’t confuse flexibility with a simple lack of foresight. Not having a plan is not agile, it is chaotic.

3. Think collectively

Particularly in corporations with pre-established processes and hierarchies, people can be resistant to change. Empower your teams to unlock their full potential by making change a team effort. That means distributing decision-making and accountability evenly throughout teams rather than ineffective micromanagement.

4. Automate where possible

On your path to agility, avoid handling processes manually that could be easily automated to increase efficiency and save time. A rethink of your existing workflows is the perfect time to try out automation in a few critical areas. Be wary of over-applying automation though, and start small and reasonable.

5. Gain your employees’ and managers’ trust

Building trust with your teams is vital to making agility a success. The secret to trust? Transparency. Ensure there’s a shared vision of what these new workflows will achieve, and give frequent updates in regular alignment meetings. Report issues and obstacles early, providing options on how to move forward. Always focus on future solutions instead of preparing for blaming. That way, each member of your organization feels they’re working towards a common goal and therefore will be more likely to lean in to change.

6. Planning versus flexibility

You want to be agile enough to respond to new situations that arise, but organized enough with your digital governance that project management is effective. That means finding the sweet spot between planning and flexibility. We’d suggest a rough framework of around 10-20 task packages, which can then be updated and optimized as you go. That way you’re prepared for the future, but ready to react to whatever comes too.

Leverage the full power of agility

Agility comes with great benefits for your business, enabling you to rapidly respond to even the most challenging technical and human issues using a proven methodology. Though typically associated with cutting-edge, early-stage startups, there’s no reason why larger corporations shouldn’t leverage agile methodologies to their benefit too.

However, where implementation so often fails is in applying it as an across-the-board solution to widespread business issues. Agility should be viewed realistically as a helping hand towards better business practices rather than your corporation’s savior. It won’t eliminate complexity, nor will it transform your business instantly. Keep it in perspective and start small.

Alternatively, businesses often simply jump on the trend and apply agility ad-hoc as another tick-box process to be followed. Agile consultants will apply yet another process without any true change to the way projects are managed. Instead, by understanding the four key pillars of agility and introducing the true meaning of agility, you can leverage the real benefits of these methodologies. Agility can bring enhanced productivity, lower costs and reduced time-to-market for higher quality product. However, it requires flexible planning, a supportive infrastructure in place and consensus across all teams. So don’t just follow the crowd: gain an in-depth understanding and apply agility in a way that works for your business.

Netcentric: your agile partner

At Netcentric, agility is in our DNA. Within our organization, we share responsibility evenly throughout our teams and encourage autonomy. This means our experts are empowered to deliver the best results for our clients. Additionally, our agile mindset helps us stay ahead of the curve of digital innovation, and respond rapidly to growing customer expectations.

Our agility helps us to be an even better digital partner to our clients, helping them navigate the ever-changing technological landscape and deliver exceptional experiences every day.