‘Agile’ working began as a new approach to software development and project management, where tasks were performed in short development cycles known as sprints to enable constant improvement to products and services.
In recent years, Agile has grown in stature – beyond just a project management technique into a strategic transformation priority for the business as a whole. With the pandemic and its dynamic impact on the market and consumer behaviour, the focus on Agile has only grown more pronounced.
The Transformation Alliance – a global association of advisory firms featuring Q5, h&z Consulting, Cordial, MBS and Kea & Partners – interviewed executives across France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK to understand what makes up a successful Agile transformation. Four pillars emerged: strategy, culture, processes and technology
Gone are the days of crafting elaborate five-year plans for a business. Market changes make these plans obsolete in weeks or months. No doubt, businesses still need a long-term objective to steer their organisation and ensure everyone’s on the same page. Or a “North Star,” as framed by the experts.
At the same time, this vision must be “accompanied by improvisation, a fundamental openness and flexibility at the tactical level. It means there is a willingness to explore, experiment, and to seek to create value for all stakeholders whenever there is an opportunity to do so,” explained Maximilian Marks from h&z Consulting. Underpinning all these efforts is a distinct focus on the customer.
Every business has two kinds of culture: hard and soft. Hard culture refers to hierarchy, decision-making processes, governance, etc. Soft culture speaks to more personal traits of leadership, style, values and behaviour. Both need transformation to foster an agile culture.
An agile organisation is flat and democratic, where every employee is empowered to ideate and act. All team members are equally responsible for a task and its outcome, rather than a single project manager. Another key principle is collaboration. Teams communicate among each other and share information – putting the customer first.
“Silos have no place in the agile workplace – without knowledge sharing agile teams function less effectively, if at all,” noted Q5 partner Dominique Sherry.
A traditional business follows a fixed process of product development: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closure. Underlying this sequence is the goal of delivering a finished product. Agile companies differ – they provide a minimum viable product, and iteratively improve it as they go along.
Rapid decision and learning cycles are used to meet constantly evolving customer needs. Teams need to adapt their work methods to keep up, while traditional business functions such as planning and budgeting also need to increase in frequency to enable this rapid rate of change.
Agile businesses are usually advanced on their digital transformation journey. So instead of implementing tech in response to business problems, they use tech to drive their business strategy towards competitiveness, efficiency and dynamism. Many have a chief digital officer to manage this process.
According to Ferdinand Härtl from h&z Consulting, Covid-19’s impact on the workplace and the market has made this use of technology more urgent than ever. “To succeed, let alone survive in a post-covid world, an agile organisation must explore how to exploit digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and advanced analytics, the internet-of-things and robotics, as well as technologies that push the boundaries of customer intelligence and customer experience.”