Considering the pace of change in today's world, agile business—the process of making quick decisions based on the information you have and the willingness to adopt new strategies as you go along—has gone from being a competitive advantage to a necessity for many organizations.
I was curious about how modern business owners view the future of agile business, so I talked with Adelaida Diaz-Roa, co-founder of social travel network Nomo FOMO, and Aaron Michel, partner at venture capital firm 1984 Ventures.
Both Diaz-Roa and Michel support agile business in their own enterprises. Diaz-Roa defines it as “having a work culture built around trust, speed, flexibility and transparency. It's about empowering everyone on the team to take risks to achieve the company's mission, knowing that their manager will support them if they fail."
“Agile business enables a company to be more nimble, eliminate waste and reduce lead times," Michel adds.
Where Is Agile Business Headed?
Agile business got its start in the tech playgrounds of Silicon Valley, but it's becoming increasingly common in large corporations around the world.
—Aaron Michel, partner, 1984 Ventures
“Agile organizations are becoming flatter, trusting employees to act as business owners," says Diaz-Roa. “People operations are more important, leading to an increased focus on individual accomplishments."
Many organizations are training leaders and employees alike to embrace uncertainty and to be more adaptable in terms of their roles, responsibilities and goals. Instead of insisting that agile business is "only for startups," companies of all sizes are now looking closely at agile concepts like customer-centered design, incremental process development and minimum marketable feature (MMF) launches—or releasing a product with only the bare essentials with the assumption that it will be further improved upon.
“More organizations are gaining a better understanding of agile principles and practices, and how they can move operations ahead given the company's unique needs and culture," says Michel.
Can Businesses Be Too Adaptable?
A challenge of agile business involves “moving target" strategies among customers, partners and vendors.
“This is becoming more commonplace as technology makes it easier to get real-time data and feedback," says Diaz-Roa.
It's important to remember that even if you practice agile business, you won't be able to please everyone all the time.
“Business owners should promote open communication and work to balance expectations about what you'll implement and what you won't," she adds.
“There is definitely such a thing as being too adaptable," Michel agrees. “The key is to have a stable strategic vision while creating a customer-focused culture that encourages rapid iteration."
Running an Effective Agile Operation
Business owners must try not to get behind the market in terms of agile business practices. To that end, Michel recommends analyzing your key performance indicators (KPIs) and evaluating them in the context of your business and the broader market dynamics.
“Implementing agile appropriately first requires a shift in management's mindset and company culture," he says, "and then the use of appropriate agile tools for their needs—for example, product sprints or HR policy development."
Diaz-Roa suggests thinking of the customer first.
“The most important thing an agile business can do is providing the right feedback mechanisms to customers so that input becomes actionable and you can integrate it into the decision-making process," she says. “A public product roadmap that users can comment and vote on is a good example. This invites stakeholders to feel more invested in your product and help lead that product in the right direction."
The good news is that a key feature of agile business is adaptability, so there's no right answer as to how to start. And as more businesses adopt these practices, there may be greater overall tolerance for experimental strategies with the potential to drive whole markets and industries forward.
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