Businesses that are agile, can rapidly adapt to internal and external market changes, without compromising on quality. They are quick to respond and are flexible to customer demands. Rather than being “a machine”, an organization is more like “an organism”1 that is continuously evolving by being adaptive, creative, and resilient.
To be agile, we need to first understand what exactly it entails.
For organizations to be agile, they need to have the following key characteristics2:
- Strategy: Shared purpose and vision.
- Structure: Closely knit, empowered teams that take extreme ownership, stable top-level structure, but the rest of the organization has a flexible hierarchy – a flat structure
- Process: Continuous learning and sharing, rapid experimentation and thinking, efficient decision making, and practice radical honesty
- People: Cohesive community with a common culture, people at the center
- Technology: Digitization of organizational processes, integration of next-gen tech development and delivery practices into the business
How do we ensure that innovation stays consistent, pandemic, or not? Do we have to constantly be pushed out of our comfort zones to think radically?
Truly agile organizations don’t see a trade-off between flexibility and stability. In their early years, start-ups are known for their dynamism, but as they scale they are bogged down by bureaucracy3.
Transitioning to the agile way of being isn’t simple, it will require training, behavioral change, and new technology. Thus, leadership executives need to decide whether this shift is worth the effort and cost. Budget limitations, availability of manpower, return on investment, cost of delays, risks, inter-dependencies among other teams, customer and employee feedback have to be kept in mind before making the move to agile4.
Moreover, agile will not work in certain conditions5. Let’s look at some of these constraints:
- Market Environment: stable and unpredictable
- Customer involvement: clear requirements, unavailable for constant collaboration
- Innovation type: clear solutions based on previous work, working in silos
- Modularity of Work: parts can’t be tested until the product is complete, changes are not accommodated
- Impact of interim mistakes: they could be disastrous and are not seen as learnings
It is fair to say that agile isn’t for every organization. However, agile can help organizations to optimize their processes and have better control of their operations. Being agile means to constantly walk that tightrope between structure and innovation. If done right, it can do so without compromising on efficiency and help organizations to constantly improve and think outside the box.
Having said this, when working remotely is our new normal, can teams embrace agile? The answer is a resounding, yes. Now, that we don’t really have an option, here are some ways to be agile, while working remotely6:
- Prioritization of tasks
- Having small, cross-functional autonomous teams
- Frequent meetings that ensure that everyone is aligned and are collaborating
- Agile leaders that focus on concrete output and goals, who enable teams to work towards a common vision
- Building a virtual sense of culture, through empathy, transparency, and engagement
Let’s take a look at organizations that are doing agile right:
Spotify has organized their teams and “squads”, of 4 to 6 people. They are part of a larger “tribe” that then fit loosely into “chapters” and “guilds”. Squads are fully autonomous and work independently. These squads can be thought of as independent start-ups, that engage in knowledge sharing but don’t collaborate often. Despite the volatile nature of the structure, chapters and guilds help the organization to build their community and corporate culture. Spotify has consciously decoupled their teams where possible to avoid scaling issues, to achieve agility. Guided by agile coaches, squads are able to innovate and act quickly, without conforming to any hierarchies.
Now that the circumstances have forced everyone to work remotely, one can say that HashedIn has been prepared since its values were able to align precisely to build a culture of agility. During these times, having #Units that act as independent entities ensures that having smaller high-performing teams can adapt to the fast-changing requirements of clients. Despite the change in business operations, every team is driven by delivering customer delight. Incorporating customers’ iterations are seen as the building blocks that will ensure a competitive advantage. Teams that are highly motivated to get the job done, in a short amount of time is the key. Being agile ensures that self-organizing teams have the independence to play to their strengths. HashedIn actively cultivates an environment of support and constant learning. The end goal, when building software, whether from a business, design, developer, or end-users point of view, is that it should be sustainable. At HashedIn, teams are constantly reflecting to optimally build, transform, and launch innovative products for its customers across the globe. Being agile is to learn from each other; and it is this constant high paced learning environment that is the secret of this organization’s growth.
Support from the Leadership Team
The pandemic has forced many organizations to think on their feet, to come up with innovative ways of doing business. If they don’t swim, they will sink. The command-and-control style of management in unforeseen circumstances rarely works, and the top management has realized that being agile is the best way forward. However, being agile is more than just sporadic bursts of innovation, rather than a systematic way of doing things. Cultivating a dynamic work environment, where constant change is looked as an opportunity rather than a barrier, is the best way forward. Being given the freedom to experiment and falter and/or succeed is part of the process. The top management has a key role to play. Giving their teams this freedom is what will lead to innovation and will warrant risks that will pay off.