How to stop saying ‘agile’ and start working Agile

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing about how clients can create the right culture for business transformation. You can read the previous articles in the series here:

In the final post in this series, I’m going to look at a word that is often used but rarely put into practice fully – Agile.

Where did ‘Agile’ come from and what does it mean?

Long before the idea of ‘working agile’ became popular in the corporate world, the principle of ‘Agile software development’ originated in the San Fran start up culture. In fact, one of Facebook’s original mottos was, famously, to ‘Move Fast and Break Things’.

Since then, Agile has spread to organisations of all sizes – from the NHS to BMW. Arguably, it now means many different things to many different people. Some companies use the word to describe flexitime or remote working policies. Others to describe working in small teams with flat organisational structures.

For the purposes of this article, let’s define it as a commitment to arrive at solutions quickly. And, having arrived at those solutions (whether they are technology or process-based), to test, learn and refine them.

Sounds simple enough. But a lot of large organisations, especially large ones, struggle to put this into practice. Lt. Col. John Dagless of the British Army explains. “The defence industry talks Agile but very few are actually delivering incrementally according to Agile principles. Quite often, we find that it’s the same people delivering change projects but with a different sticker.”

How to make Agile happen

Agile requires a fundamental shift in management. Leaders need to empower their staff to think for themselves, develop new solutions and put them into practice. In order to do this, staff have to want to change. They need to see the value in it.

For Clare Barclay, Microsoft COO, this is all about “considering how you gain the emotional commitment of your people and inspire them to want to change. This starts with setting a clear vision and bringing employees along the change journey.”

It also requires trust on the part of leaders to grant teams a degree of autonomy not found in traditional top-down management hierarchies.

Why is this important? In a recent Microsoft study, it was found that slow decision-making and cautiousness was the number one factor standing between large private sector organisations and digital transformation.

So, how can leaders create an Agile working culture in their organisations?

For more detail on any of the steps below, click here to download the full report.

Think long-term and set flexible goals

Consider digital transformation as an ongoing, iterative process of continual improvement. Technologies evolve, so setting out a mission for the journey doesn’t mean having an inflexible end goal.

Run projects in parallel

Don’t treat the different elements of digital change as linear projects that must be completed before moving on. The most successful organisations begin the next step while still in the midst of the previous one. See the S-curve model to see this process in action.

Create feedback loops

Create a feedback loop to identify points of tension and use conflict mapping to identify all the individuals, situations and interactions where conflict is most likely. This allows you to prepare and intervene in advance.

Empower your staff to test and learn

Starting with leadership, promote a growth mindset for the organisation where innovation and experimentation are encouraged and failure is not punished, but seen as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Be accepting of different responses to change

Accept that employees will have a mix of growth and fixed mindsets. So, when met with resistance, remember it is the mindset talking not the person and be aware that mindsets can change. This will prevent frustration and help maintain a focus on solutions.

As part of our own digital and business transformation journey, we’ve embraced Agile and flexible working to help our staff work in the way that suits them. You can see this process in action below.

For more support on how to deliver Agile working, click here to download the full report.

And you can take another look at the rest of the posts in the series here:

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