Tired of functioning robotically under a single, inflexible chain of command? Seventeen software developers met in Utah in 2001 to brainstorm improvements that could be made to waterfall organizations. Under waterfall organizations or waterfall development, managers set deliverable requirements and execution strategies, which were then passed from one function to another. To be fair, this approach worked quite effectively in stable environments. However, the last two decades have seen rapid growth in software and technology, with new trends and protocols emerging every few months. This change required a system that was as flexible and bubbling with innovation as the industry it sought to serve.
This brought the birth of The Agile Manifesto, or agile organizations, as they are known today. As of now, 85.9% of software developers use agile methodologies in their work. Moreover, these methodologies have seeped into non-technical fields such as marketing, and are no longer limited to just the IT and Finance industries. In fact, according to a study conducted by Forbes, 92% of 500 leading executives from all over the world said that agility is highly vital to businesses.
So, what exactly is agile? How does it work and does your organization fall under the agile bracket? Let us find out.
What is an agile organization?
An agile organization is an organization that functions on agile values and principles. In a nutshell, these principles are the following:
- A strong focus on people rather than processes: This means that agile organizations build their projects around the relevant people, rather than expecting all employees to work on every project they are assigned to. This helps employees as they can showcase their strengths and bring their innovation and creativity to the table, rather than working mechanically on assignments that may not motivate them.
- A prioritization of prototypes over documentation: This means that agile organizations focus on having working prototypes available for employees, rather than expecting excessive documentation of any process steps at their end. This helps employees see a working prototype of the software they are currently working on which can help motivate them further. It can also help them troubleshoot initial errors, anticipate user roadblocks, and understand whether they need to add or remove features.
- Change as a part of the project rather than strict plans: This means that agile organizations have a strong focus on ensuring their project workflow plans are not written entirely in stone. With new customer expectations and innovations in products, employees must be able to anticipate changes in their plans and adjust accordingly. This makes for a more dynamic engineering process.
- Customer collaboration rather than inflexible tasks: This means that agile organizations ensure that stakeholder feedback becomes a huge part of the development process, rather than a cursory aspect of development that occurs towards the end.
Adopting agile processes can benefit both, organizations and employees greatly. Some of the benefits of becoming an agile company are as follows:
- It eliminates the need for meetings, excessive documentation, needless planning, and rigid processes that only serve to waste time.
- It can help employees grow more productive by allowing them to be accountable for their work (as opposed to feeling that their work comprises of mechanical tasks assigned to them at random).
- It increases a sense of belonging to teams and the organization overall.
Agile organizations are an ideal way to adapt to a market that is continually changing. By following a few set processes, you can also ensure that your organization becomes an agile company.
Checklist for creating an agile organization
A checklist for creating such an organization must include the main trademarks of an agile organization, along with your inputs regarding how these trademarks fit in with your organization. This is because being agile is not just about implementing a few processes and calling it a day; you must truly understand how these processes fit into your workflow for employees to relate to and accept them. The following are the main elements of the checklist:
- Have you implemented a clear, flat structure or a top-down structure?
- Do your employees have clear roles that they are accountable for?
- Do you have an open or virtual environment or one that is built on the cubicle system?
- Do you encourage active partnerships within the ecosystem of your workspace?
- Do your employees anticipate responsibility or do they have a hands-on approach?
- Do your teams have an actionable guidance strategy?
- Do all your employees work towards a shared vision?
- Do your employees seize opportunities based on innovations in the market?
- Is the resource allocation in your organization flexible or rigid?
- Have you implemented process standards to eliminate errors?
- Are your organization’s processes transparent?
- Is your organization built on learning?
- Do you allow process experimentation in your organization?
- Is there an action-oriented decision-making process?
- Are your employees driven?
- Do your employees feel they are a part of a shared community?
- Is there role mobility in your organization?
- Is there shared leadership in your organization?
- Are you focused on using the latest technologies?
- Are your development goals looking towards the future of technology?
You can use these sets of characteristics to ask yourself how agile your organization is, if at all. Use this checklist to create a more agile working environment. Also, must begin working on your processes and people to help your organization make the transition in the most holistic manner.
How can you create an agile organization?
Enforcing any change in an organization can be a challenge, especially when the changes demand a 180-degree pivot from the way your employees currently function to the way they are now required to function. To create an agile organization, you can focus on using certain building blocks that vary with different types of teams. These building blocks can help you determine the direction in which the new processes need to flow, as each team is different and you cannot use templated processes for them all. The following are certain types of teams that you can strive to build:
- Cross Functional Teams: Cross functional teams work the best for product development and product launch teams. Members within this team must coordinate with product owners to be on the same page regarding product visions and priorities. Ideally, such teams should include people responsible for different functionalities and with different levels of expertise. The nature of work in such teams is usually very learning-based, highly connected and well-integrated.
- Self-Managing Teams: Self-managing teams work the best for marketing, customer service, and sales teams. These teams are a bit more stable when it comes to the processes they follow when compared to cross-functional teams. They have to define their ways of working right at the beginning and measure their work against set KPIs. For instance, a salesman may have a defined mode of working such as cold calling, and may have a set KPI of a certain number of sales a month. The nature of work in these teams is also learning-based, however it also relies on the repetition of tasks and stand-alone workflows.
- Flow-to-the-Work Pools: Flow-to-the-work pools work the best for H.R. and legal teams. This type of a team basically refers to pools of people who have different tasks on a full-time basis. Their tasks are based on priorities and timelines can vary from hours to months to years. The nature of work in such teams is usually stand-alone and repetitive.
If you are looking to create an agile organization, you can start by defining the types of teams you must build and the kinds of employees that fit into each team. This will make the transition to adopting agile values and processes much smoother!
Agile organizations are certainly the need of the hour, with constant innovation and growing consumer needs driving the market force today. You can use the checklist in this article to see whether your organization is an Agile one, and if not, you can help your organization pivot towards the same.
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