Change the way you think about agile

Why you should focus on value, flow and quality to create a thriving business

For many businesses, adopting an agile strategy is often touted as a revolutionary decision that can overhaul their operations. It’s seen as a surefire solution that promises transformational results, until it doesn’t. Too often, businesses who hope to rejuvenate the way they work through an agile strategy end up spending plenty of time, effort and money to achieve very little.

The reasons for that are varied, but at their core, they often come down to a single problem. “People don’t understand what agile is for,” says Andrew Husak, vice president of product architecture at Emergn, a global digital business services firm with a mission to improve the way people and companies work.

They look to it as a way of fixing a number of business problems with outcomes focused on the promise of ‘better, faster, more,’ when what they’re actually solving for is uncertainty. Basically, agile is applied to the wrong problems. Companies are focused on funding short-term projects, competing for budgets and maintaining a culture of control, when the solutions lie in funding long-term capability, investing in value propositions and cultivating a culture of empowerment.

Andrew Husak, VP of Product Architecture

Agile, rather than a thing to do or a goal, is a means to an end: a way to reach your desired business outcomes, and to develop a thriving business that provides valuable products and experiences to the market, has productive staff and partners and is managed for stability and growth.

Most companies want to offer preferred products and services to an expanding client base, and operate in a way that supports their business model by keeping costs and labor time low. They do that by planning and modeling to head off any issues before they occur. “But the premise of agility is actually changing the way you think about, how you respond to, or even how you view the market in the first place,” says Husak.

That goes right back to the basic roots of how your business operates. Becoming agile is a journey, because agile methods and techniques are very different to the old ways of working. They require a different mindset from managers – and a different approach to structuring workflow and workforce. In order to adopt and adapt to this new mindset, business leaders need to think about what outcomes they’re trying to achieve, and how everyone can align with those outcomes. They need to investigate how their organization defines value, and whether staff are prioritizing the most valuable work through that lens.

That’s how it should be done. But many businesses struggle to adopt agility to its fullest potential because they focus on projects versus products as part of their attempt to govern for certainty, rather than the uncertainty embraced by an agile approach. They think they know what their customers want and need from them, without processes for reaching out to them through experimentation to solicit feedback. And that lack of feedback coming in leaves them unable to adapt and evolve over time to meet the changing needs of their customers.

Agile, rather than a thing to do or a goal, is a means to an end: a way to reach your desired business outcomes, and to develop a thriving business that provides valuable products and experiences to the market

All of those issues stem from leadership either misunderstanding or misapplying the agile framework to their business. The genesis of agile from software development was intended to be radical, but that requires plenty of trust from brave leadership. “It’s a complete upending of your attitude to how your business actually exists and needs to continue to exist. This is usually something that requires continually investing in people and extending their knowledge beyond the status quo; supporting them with access to experts and a learning platform full of ideas and innovative thinking,” says Husak.

One way to get out of the traditional way of thinking and into a forward-thinking, agile-open one is to adopt the three guiding principles that Emergn advises businesses to consider:

1. Deliver value early and often
Think in terms of small units of value, which you can validate with your customers while appealing to them at the same time.

2. Optimize the flow of work end-to-end
It’s not simply about learning to work faster. It’s about finding ways to respond rapidly in unpredictable conditions to eliminate waste and delay.

3Discover quality with fast feedback
Prioritize learning to find out what works and what doesn’t through experimentation and adapt your plans accordingly.

The principles don’t provide pre-defined answers, but instead serve as a springboard to agility. Together, they make up a philosophy that you can use to equip your leaders, employees and partners to solve whatever uncertainties your business future holds. All the mechanics of agility, which are what most companies concentrate on, emerge from this philosophy, not the other way around.

These principles are implemented by Emergn within hundreds of businesses worldwide who ask for an assessment of the way their business works now, what great looks like, and how to bridge the gap. That work begins by asking questions. “Our number one hypothesis is that every business serves at least one market,” says Husak. “Do they know what that market is? Do they understand the customer?” Answering that establishes the concept of value for a business. It then leads businesses to think about who else can provide that value – to customers as well as shareholders. It encourages them to consider competitors and their company’s place in the sector. The rest follows from there.

Change starts here: