Agile. If you operate beyond the software development world, odds are you hear “agile" often but might not be sure what it means. Agile process and principles, developed by the IT community, allow developers to provide on-the-fly feedback throughout their product development cycle.
Let's have a look at the four key principles of what's dubbed the Agile Manifesto. The Agile process values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
It's not that the values on the right are unimportant. Agile focuses, however, on the values on the left.
If your business operates outside of the IT realm, you might be wondering if there's a place for agile principles in your business. Let's look beyond the phrase “agile process" and into the values that make it an empowering process for any business. This way, you can see which of these values could both apply to your business and bring the greatest benefit. It may even inspire you to adopt new processes that can help your business thrive like agile does with software development.
1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Successful businesses come down to two audiences: the humans who create what you sell and the humans who buy what you sell.
Humans are, by nature, wildly variant creatures: A myriad of situations and conditions can affect how they react to a situation.
This means running a nimble company, one that's able to respond to variables as they appear, could put the humans on both sides of your company in a better position to succeed.
If customers or employees complain about processes or procedures on regular basis, you might be valuing processes and tools over individuals and interactions to your detriment.
By becoming a more agile company that focuses on people and conversations, and knowing when to best bend the rules and abandon cumbersome tools, you could lead your business to better conversations, less clunky problem solving and higher levels of employee and customer satisfaction.
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation.
Handbooks. User's manuals. FAQs.
Companies design these tools with good intentions, but forget that they can leave questions unanswered and lead to frustration. Having streamlined and satisfying day-to-day business processes for employees and customers alike are more important than the pages and screens that outline the underlying processes word by word.
If your leaders and customer service reps frequently refer those facing challenges to supporting documentation, it might be time to look at the problems instead of the problem-solving papers.
Ever been frustrated with a lackluster FAQ or product manual? Think about what would have given you the answer you needed. A simple disclaimer about shipping in a shopping cart? Product dimensions?
By pooling frustrations, you can help improve the way your company functions to avoid those issues, software included. You might just find that you can skip updating the documentation because it explained a solution for a problem that no longer exists.
As you increase your commitment to becoming an agile process company, you may also decrease your need for wordy explanations.
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
There isn't a project that happens in the business world without terms of engagement settled.
Why wouldn't you want both speed and ease when it comes to contract negotiations? You're likely not in the business of negotiating contracts (professional contract negotiators: apologies) and your passion rests far beyond a signature line and financial investment.
If you're interested in becoming a more agile company, consider shifting towards a collaboration-centric negotiations phase. Put your client at the center of the conversation by placing their goals, needs and vision for the future in the lead. This way, your company can abandon the cookie-cutter proposal templates and slide presentations in favor of bringing solutions that make your client the star of any contract being signed.
You might also discover that there's more joy and excitement in the signing stage than ever before and find clients that are just as excited to get to work as you are.
4. Responding to change over following a plan.
There's the oft misquoted line from the poem “The Mouse" by Robert Burns about plans:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.
In translation, the best laid plans often go awry. When hyper-focused on the plan itself, it's hard to make necessary shifts when things don't go as planned.
While plans can offer maps to direct your company towards a desired goal, you might find that you reach goals more efficiently and with better-than-envisioned outcomes by leaving more room for change.
Acknowledge the anomalies. Embrace the aberrations. Ask, “What's happening?" instead of lamenting what happened. By shifting your devotion from plan to present tense, you can quickly address concerns, shift strategy and stop wasting time and resources (financial and emotional) on wishing things were different.
Launch with a plan. Embrace the imperfect journey to completion. That's a more agile process.
The truth is that you don't have to be entrenched in the IT world to make agile process and principles work for your business. By creating a constant feedback cycle between all of the humans and technology that power your business, you can help build more engaged teams, earn devoted customers and discover a smoother way of doing business.
Read more articles on strategy.