Adopting Agile Movement Strategies to Keep Pace in the Post-Digital Era

Build a more nimble and adaptable organization. Increasing customer demands, international competition, and disruptive technologies are creating new challenges that many companies are struggling to deal with. Learn how adopting the principles of the Agile movement can help your organization adapt to rapidly changing environments and succeed in the post-digital era.

Adopting Agile Movement Strategies to Keep Pace in the Post-Digital Era
Adopting Agile Movement Strategies to Keep Pace in the Post-Digital Era

What’s in the article:

  • 4 hallmarks of the Agile organization
  • 4 roadblocks to agility
  • 4 ways you can cultivate agility in your organization
  • Key strategies and tactics to help your company stay nimble

Content Summary

The need for speed
Sharp curves ahead
The rise of Agile
Agile becomes a movement
Hallmarks of an Agile organization
Growth mindset
Truly collaborative teams
Feedback loops
Technology that promotes unity
Roadblocks to agility
Fear of failure
Misaligned leadership
Big reveals
Fragmented systems
How to cultivate agility in your organization
Build a culture focused on growth
Allow ideas to flourish
Transform your environment
Invest in next-gen collaboration tools
Fast and nimble

The need for speed

For decades, the most reliable competitive advantage a company could invest in was speed. Successful businesses have historically been viewed as “welloiled machines.” Driven by the incessant pressure to build products faster and perform services more efficiently, incredible technological breakthroughs have been developed to help industry leaders screech past their competition.

The Industrial Revolution dramatically sped up the production and transport of goods. Frederick Winslow Taylor’s time and motion studies broke tasks down into specific physical actions so that every single movement could be optimized. The invention of the conveyor belt combined with Henry Ford’s assembly line method reduced the amount of time it took to assemble a Model T from 12 and a half hours to just 93 minutes, transforming the entire automobile industry.

Up until now, companies were like drag racers with a singular focus: Get to the finish line faster, whether that was with a finished product or service rendered. This strategy for finishing products or rendering services works great when an environment is stable and predictable, but times have changed. Today’s competitive landscape is looking less like a dragstrip, and more like a winding alpine track.

Sharp curves ahead

We’ve entered the “Age of the Customer.” The era of drag racing is over — now we need rally cars. Businesses need to not only move fast but be able to turn on a dime to react to rapidly changing environments. The post-digital global economy is a race track full of twists and hairpin turns.

Increasing customer demands: Today’s consumers have grown accustomed to incredible experiences and services and demand the same level of excellence across every brand and interaction. Personalized experiences were previously reserved for only a handful of top-tier customers and usually at a premium. But AI and big data have made it possible to deliver customization at scale, leading to an expectation of personalization at all levels and price points. Additionally, the “always-on” nature of digital products has led customers to expect that companies should always be ready and able to answer questions, receive orders, and provide assistance whenever needed.

International competition: Not only has local competition in every industry increased, it’s gone global. Digital transformation is the great equalizer, giving even small players the ability to wage asymmetric warfare against much larger incumbents. What used to be differentiators have become table stakes. Businesses of all sizes now create captivating new products, services, and experiences. Large organizations have struggled to navigate digital transformation and are finding themselves outmaneuvered by small upstarts. Enterprise companies unable to move quickly are left behind and becoming irrelevant. Excelling in the face of increasingly demanding pressures is now a “do or die” situation.

Disruptive technology: Technology is developing more rapidly than businesses have been able to responsibly use it. In many ways, it’s enabling teams to do more with less. Mobile devices help teams break free of their desks and work from anywhere on the planet (and beyond). Software updates are deployed instantaneously to millions of devices across multiple operating systems. Robots are helping companies be more efficient, cut costs, and make the workplace safer. AI and automation systems have even begun managing human workers.

But in addition to this innovation, rapid technological advancement has also created massive roadblocks. Fragmented systems and data silos encumber forward momentum. Unregulated data collection has raised serious questions about privacy and the ethics around handling personal information. Security breaches have brought some companies to their knees and embroiled thousands of others in costly legal battles. In 2018 alone, over 1 billion people had their personal data exposed thanks to security breaches. In response, some governments have hastily crafted legislation in an effort to protect consumers and get companies to be more transparent about their data handling practices.

To effectively contend with today’s evolving challenges and safely navigate roadblocks to growth, businesses need to be able to execute in real time and operate at the highest levels at scale.

The rise of Agile

Several methodologies have been developed to help companies adapt to quickly changing environments. One of the most popular is Agile.

The Agile methodology was born during a time of extreme growth and change. PC software was exploding in popularity and businesses struggled to keep up. The time between a validated business need and an actual software application in production was 3 years. But 3 years is an incredibly long time in the tech world. Requirements and systems could easily change within that window, which led to projects being canceled while still in development or subpar software that failed to meet evolving needs.

Agile was created to help development teams work faster and respond more effectively to change. By focusing on short development cycles and incremental progress, software could be brought to market faster, and feedback from the market could be implemented faster as well. This put businesses in a better position to minimize risks and adapt to changing environments.

Agile becomes a movement

Just a few decades after its birth, Agile’s popularity has sped past strictly development teams and been embraced throughout organizations. It’s grown into a movement that’s helping address the needs of multiple teams, departments, and industries.

Similar to the way design thinking has been adopted across industries to reframe how companies think about and approach problems, Agile has transformed how orgs go about tackling those problems.

Agile was born out of a revolution — a rebellion against inefficient ways of working. It puts weight on the outcome, not the processes or tools it takes to get there. It embraces change, collaboration, and feedback. The original Agile Manifesto expresses the mindset this way:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Even teams that have to maintain some sort of waterfall approach benefit from Agile principles. For example, design teams or content teams that work from creative briefs or project requests can use Agile principles to better prioritize their work and make the best use of their time and resources. By embracing these principles, teams and organizations of all kinds can be more nimble and better prepared to contend with constantly changing environments.

Hallmarks of an Agile organization

Growth mindset

Google set out to discover the key ingredients behind successful teams and launched a multi-year study called Project Aristotle.They found that the number one trait amongst the highest-performing teams was psychological safety. In Agile organizations, there’s a culture of growth and support. People feel free to try new things without fear of failure. New ideas, processes, and strategies are encouraged. Team members feel like they can be honest and candid with each other as well as with leadership. When a growth mindset is cultivated, people feel they can change and influence anything — nothing is fixed and everything is in a constant state of iteration.

Truly collaborative teams

Agility requires teams to move in unison. There’s no place for infighting in the Agile org. Teams are not defensive. They share information and resources and are willing to cede power or control in the interest of moving things forward because they’re invested in each other’s success. All are focused on shared outcomes and unified in vision. They have clear channels to communicate with each other and do so often.

Feedback loops

Constant forward motion requires constant feedback. Feedback in Agile organizations is honest and frequent. Stakeholders are never “checked out” but fully invested and active in projects. All involved are welcome to share their opinions and question the integrity of an idea, whatever their job title. No matter how far along a project is, if something can be changed or improved within the project constraints, iteration happens. “Big reveals” have no place in these orgs — work is shared and discussed at all levels of completion.

Technology that promotes unity and fosters collaboration

Agile organizations see how fragmented systems pose a threat to their ability to quickly respond to changes in their environment. Collaborative work management systems are essential to connect people, systems, and processes together. Everyone in the org and even partners and vendors are tied into this single source of truth. Data flows freely in this connected system. Everyone benefits from Metcalfe’s Law as more users leads to more value. Automation is employed to take care of routine and redundant tasks, freeing people to focus on work that has the highest ROI. Customizable and configurable tools fuel consistent growth.

Roadblocks to agility

Fear of failure

We naturally avoid risk — scientists call this the safety bias. This defense mechanism of the brain and body keeps us alive and prevents us from entering or remaining in dangerous situations. But faced with fewer physical risks in our modern world, our brains now try to shield us from things like shame, embarrassment, and failure.

As competition grows more intense across industries, culture can grow so demanding that failure is no longer tolerated at any level. In this environment, people take fewer risks in order to maintain a measure of security in their roles. They choose the “good enough” option that will meet standards but fails to really move the needle. When teams stop experimenting and taking risks, they stop innovating. Processes grow rigid and the desire to continually improve takes a back seat to identifying the most predictable options.

Without a culture of trust and psychological safety promoted by company leadership, fear prevails. Like deer paralyzed in the road by headlights, teams and companies freeze in place, unable to respond to incoming threats.

Misaligned leadership

Forbes lists “conflicted leadership” as the number one reason why the destructive organizational barriers known as “silos” exist. When company leaders withhold information from each other, it slows progress and brings cohesive work processes to a standstill. Even worse, the dysfunction trickles down and everyone ends up suffering the consequences.

Natural loyalties form between team members. A little competition between teams can be healthy. But when leadership’s not in alignment, teams are pitted against each other and spend more time fighting for resources, defending their territory, and consolidating their power than moving the organization forward. When team leaders disrespect each other and undermine their colleagues, it can be felt by everyone in the org. Battle lines are quickly drawn, and internal wars are waged. When the smoke clears, there are no victories, only defeat.

Big reveals

One of the most enduring myths in the business world is that of the “lone genius.” Real breakthroughs rarely happen spontaneously or in isolation. The image of a brilliant mind locking themselves away and coming back with some inspired magic sounds romantic, but it’s pure fairytale. Amazing discoveries are usually the result of often messy collaboration and built on insights resulting from multiple failures.

Even Steve Jobs, who seemed to be an example of the lone genius and who dazzled the world with his “one more thing” surprises, admitted that the big reveal technique is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It made Apple seem mythic, but it wasn’t how they actually got work done.

The most successful products are developed through iteration. They’re prototyped, beta tested, and put up for scrutiny. If work is allowed to develop to a finished state without feedback, the impact of failure is heavy, crushing, and costly. Without constant feedback, it’s impossible to course correct. Working in isolation prevents organizations from seeing if they’ve gone too far down the wrong path and makes it easy for them to overinvest in what are ultimately dead ends.

Fragmented systems

The average enterprise company now uses over 900 cloud applications to manage its processes, and 59% of workers say the number of tools they use has increased in the past year, according to Symantec.

While many of these SaaS tools are designed to improve efficiency, the workflow fragmentation has, in many cases, led to a decline in productivity. Workers are spending more time searching for and aggregating information than actually working.

Tools are selected to accomplish a specific task or carry out a specific purpose. All too often, multiple teams are forced to adopt a common tool that wasn’t built to meet their specific needs. In an effort to cut costs or make maintenance easier, tools are crowbarred into a variety of workflows. These ad hoc systems require a ton of patchwork just to get them to work. Data doesn’t flow freely between disparate systems. Ironically, additional tools may become necessary to make the whole thing work, increasing fragmentation and complexity.

Fragmented systems can also pose a huge security risk. Without the oversight of IT, sensitive company information or intellectual property can be put at risk. “The cloud has been the biggest change,” explains CIO advisor and security consultant Dustin Bolander. “Dropbox, Google Apps, etc. have made it incredibly easy for documents to escape the organization. Now any user in the company can set up a service and be storing data in the cloud in a matter of minutes. This has resulted in a big change from relying on technical safeguards to having to focus on user awareness and security training.”

How to cultivate agility in your organization

Build a culture focused on growth

Adopting a growth mindset can help your team embrace failure and persist in the face of setbacks. People with a growth mindset believe their talents can be developed and that new skills can be learned. Not everyone is born with a growth mindset, but it can be taught. When an entire company adopts this way of thinking, little can hold the organization back from reaching their goals and objectives. Any obstacles are seen as temporary, and solutions can and will be discovered.

For this to be achieved, company leaders need to create an environment of psychological safety. The fear of failure can paralyze an entire organization from moving forward, but people thrive in environments built on trust and openness. Celebrate failures as opportunities to learn. After each project, circle back with the team to see what learnings can be applied to the next project. Invite everyone to share what did and, more importantly, didn’t work. If people seem reluctant to share, start with a few ways you’re going to try and improve for next time. Consistent, small failures help you avoid painful big ones. This is not to say that failure is the goal, but the learning that comes along with it is.

When everyone in an organization can align around common values and a single vision, they can move faster than their competition. By focusing on outcomes, teams don’t waste time defending their own interests but mobilize to complete the task at hand. A single source of truth increases visibility into all parts of the process while balancing it with accountability. This helps give everyone clarity and unify their effort.

Allow ideas to flourish

In many companies, HIPPOs rule meetings. Instead of the best ideas winning, power defaults to the highest paid person’s opinion. For organizations to be truly Agile, everyone’s ideas need to be considered. Everyone involved in a project should feel free to contribute. Communication channels need to be clear and utilized.

While great ideas are certainly powerful, they’re fragile as well. There’s a common myth that great ideas are indestructible — that they can break through any barriers and always rise to the top. In reality, even the best ideas need to be protected and shepherded by passionate advocates. Only when guarded and given space to take hold can they truly blossom.

The best ideas come through working in volume. Get as many ideas on the table as possible in your brainstorming sessions. Encourage all to come to the meeting armed with ideas so the time can be spent sifting through options rather than thinking. Ensure all withhold judgment in these sessions as it will stifle the flow of ideas. Promote divergent thinking to get your team focused on the desired outcomes and not specific tactics, paths, or channels. Only when a large collection of ideas are on the table should you begin to start homing in on a solution and narrowing down for clarity.

Feedback needs to be frequent and iteration constant to refine ideas to a higher level. Share work openly, constantly, and at all states of completion. By doing this, you can correct problems before too much time and resources have been wasted. This also helps regulate pressure and stress as people are assured their work is on track and meeting objectives.

Transform your environment

Physical and digital spaces can be optimized to promote creativity, collaboration, and openness. Open office layouts can help promote the availability of your company leadership to meet with employees. When CEOs and founders have open-door policies, they can open themselves up to brilliant ideas from their entire talent pool.

Studies have shown that increased human contact or friction increases both the volume and caliber of ideas. It’s why densely populated urban areas are hotbeds of innovation. Steve Jobs once said:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

The more people of different backgrounds you put together, the more new experiences you create for everyone. This fuels innovation and creative growth.

This also applies to the digital realm. Digital spaces should connect people and bring visibility to all. Break down data silos and integrate tools to foster an environment where work can move forward unencumbered.

Invest in next-gen collaboration tools

Agile organizations understand how big of a liability inefficient tools are. The answer is not more technology — it’s making better choices. Customizable and configurable tools help teams accomplish more without sacrificing consistency or quality.

Collaborative work management platforms serve as a single source of truth where the assignment of work, the work itself, and feedback around that work can all be housed. These tools are built for true collaboration, not just communication. When all assignments, assets, communication, and contact information are in one place, miscommunication is drastically reduced, and everyone has more clarity around what’s going on. It’s easier to change direction quickly and effectively communicate this change to the entire organization. Visibility into what work is actually being accomplished fosters a sense of true collaboration. Seeing how each individual’s efforts connect to the whole adds meaning and inspires all to work in unison to achieve common objectives.

The latest generation of collaboration tools are customizable for each team or individual to work the way they want while still being unified. This prevents data silos from forming as all team members can be tied into a single system. These tools also make use of the cloud, enabling access across all devices and freeing individuals to work on the go. Industry-leading security prevents breaches that slow down or paralyze teams from moving forward.

Fast and nimble

Today’s leading orgs are fast and nimble. They’ve taken the best parts of the Agile methodology and applied them across business functions to increase both speed and flexibility. They’re capable of making impactful decisions at all levels, not just the top, and quickly respond to changing environments. They’re no longer drag racers but rally cars, navigating twists and turns while keeping the pedal to the metal.

This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It requires significant investment to change a culture. Executive sponsorship is a necessity, along with buy-in from everyone else in the company at all levels.

Wrike was built to empower Agile organizations to do their best work by increasing visibility, improving communication, streamlining processes, integrating workflows, and promoting real collaboration.

Source: Wrike