Agile is everywhere, but it's really not just a buzzword. It's more of an ethos. It's a process. It's about collaboration with the end goal of rapid development shaped by customer feedback. The agile process began in 2001 in the software development industry, but its influence has grown enormously, reaching throughout practically every field.
I believe the agile process works best when everyone's committed to it. If you've decided to explore what agile can do for your business, here are some hacks that I've found particularly valuable.
1. Commit to having a daily huddle/scrum meeting.
I've been a monster fan of the daily huddle before “scrum" entered common business vocabulary. The huddle is a brief standing meeting at the beginning of every day.
To clarify, by “brief" I mean really brief—typically with a hard 15-minute limit. And by “standing," I actually mean that all participants stand up during the meeting and that the meeting occurs regularly. The agile process relies heavily on goal-oriented frequent contact and open communication.
My daily huddle covers progress toward goals and lets people briefly raise problems and challenges. It may include a shout-out for an employee's particular achievement, and then we're all back to work.
2. Unify communications.
Think about how much time you spend checking in on all of your communication channels. You have at least:
- an email account (some of us may even have two or three)
- personal and work voicemails to check
- a chat function on your website
- internal messaging within your business
- text messages from your clients, employees and probably partner and kids.
It's overwhelming, and we spend way, way too much time checking all these various forms of communication. Exploring unified communications makes sense if you want to adopt the agile process.
What if you could check a single interface for everything—phone, chat, SMS, email and even fax? Well, you can. And you can even archive all your communications for easy reference.
A number of companies are working toward genuinely unified communications, which can help simplify your life. Companies of any size can check out Nextiva's NextOS; larger outfits may be introduced in Cisco, which produces comprehensive solutions.
3. Think small and SMART.
One of the reasons the agile process works is that it's incremental—a series of small steps leading toward the end goal.
Breaking down your goals into small bites can help you track progress and quickly detect when a project is going off the tracks or is behind schedule.
And I always double check my goals—both large and small—to make sure they're SMART: that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
4. Filter distractions and build in breaks.
The agile process typically works as a series of sprints—periods of dazzling productivity toward a given goal.
But in order to work at peak performance, we must both eliminate distractions and give ourselves regular breaks.
I find that the only way I can work with optimum focus is to eliminate all those communication channels I mentioned in hack #2. I'll program an alarm to interrupt me periodically, and I'll get up, move around, clear my head, check in on email and such and then get back to work.
Taking breaks and confining communications to certain times of day helps you get the most out of your active work time.
5. Get everyone involved with customer feedback.
The agile process relies heavily on customer feedback for shaping and refining a product on its way to completion. And while many small and mid-sized businesses have customer-facing positions, we also may have folks who work behind the scenes. (And that's perfectly okay. Let's face it: Not everyone is suited to customer service!)
Your agile team can benefit from seeing how customers interact with the product or service they deliver. I make sure my back-of-the-house employees get to see customer surveys and feedback because it can influence their work. The agile process is customer-focused, and it's important to infuse the entire team with an awareness of how customers use, experience and feel about the things we deliver.
The agile process relies on a mindset, one that's often disruptive in a good way. Building in these hacks can help keep you and your team on track in adopting a set of principles that will make your company more efficient and innovative.
Read more articles on organizational productivity.