In today’s increasingly fast-paced and technology-enabled environment, improving speed to market can be a business's defining moment between winning versus irrelevance, making organizational agility more crucial than ever before. Most business executives recognize that being agile can play an important role in driving revenue, improving the customer experience and getting ahead of the competition. Yet, most organizations struggle to drive and scale business agility. So why all the hype around agile, and how do companies build true business agility across their organizations?
Agile is a set of values and principles that encourage fast and flexible response to change in delivery. Agile processes put the customer or end-user at the center of everything. Product development becomes ongoing, with frequent updates aimed at better addressing user needs.
Most industry disruptors follow this continuous delivery model. Companies like Spotify actively listen to customer feedback and respond quickly with new services and features that directly address their needs. Customers start using the new services or features, provide feedback and the cycle continues to constantly improve the experience.
Starting and scaling agile necessitates meaningful change across the organization, including changes to processes, governance, workspace, culture, tools and technology; and the benefits can be significant. Employees are more engaged, teams are more collaborative and productive and new products or services arrive faster, with greater responsiveness to the customer. While it may not make sense to apply agile to every part of a business, most companies have significant headroom to operate with increased agility and create a culture that is more adaptive and collaborative.
To become a more agile business
1. Create multidisciplinary teams: In a traditional hierarchal structure, teams are organized primarily by function, and decisions are brought to senior management or tabled until the next executive committee meeting, often increasing cycle time. Agile teams are multidisciplinary and include talent across product, technology, customer service, operations and other relevant parts of the business. Agile teams are self-governing, empowered, more engaged and focused on a shared goal.
2. Deliver constant value to the customer: Traditional product development can take years. By the time a company gets a new product into customers’ hands, their needs may have changed, or a competitor may have beaten them to the punch. Agile teams focus on delivering a minimum viable product (MVP) quickly to customers and continually refining it based on customer feedback. This approach dramatically shrinks time to market and also ensures that the evolved product is more aligned with customer needs.
3. Encourage taking risks and failing fast: Innovation requires taking risks, potentially failing and quickly learning from that failure, or “failing fast.” Most organizations view risk taking and failure to be taboo, however agile supports constant innovation, requiring an environment where empowerment, taking risks and failing fast is encouraged by senior leaders.
4. Implement a culture of collaboration: Agile requires organizations to change mindsets, behaviors and even physical workspaces. This includes pivoting individuals from focusing on their functional silo to focusing collectively on the customer need, embracing agile ceremonies, such as stand-ups and retrospectives, and ensuring that agile teams are collocated in workspaces designed for seamless collaboration.
5. Lead by example: C-suite executives play a crucial role in pushing for agile adoption and providing necessary funding, training, empowerment and support. Leaders need to communicate a clear vision about embracing agile, ensure that the first few agile project successes are shared across the company, and then scale the agile model over time. Senior leaders should visibly immerse themselves in the agile model by visiting agile workspaces, reviewing output and providing ongoing thought leadership to their teams.
Companies across every industry will need to become more nimble and responsive to remain competitive in today’s fast changing marketplace, and business agility is a key enabling mechanism to doing so. The benefits of agile include improved time to market, client experience, employee engagement and efficiency, all critical components to achieving long-term success.
Kenan Rodrigues is Head of Business Transformation for Middle Market Banking & Specialized Industries, JPMorgan Chase.