In the late 1990’s the software industry was turning away from the rigid models and process of software engineering that defined the first decades of large-scale software development. These rigid models kept the customer at arms length, and did not accommodate changes to perspective, changes from outside pressures or changes from the customer, even though the projects could take months and years to complete. It was a rigid way of working.
The major shift in thinking about how software could be developed came with Agile Software Development which provided fast turnaround on software components, closer relationships with customers and an expectation of change. New models of working collaboratively ensured that safety was not compromised and quality of product was maintained – even enhanced.
We are heading towards 20 years of Agile techniques in the software industry (and many say that it is now time for the next model of software development). But the experiences of using these techniques in this sector are beginning to have a large impact on businesses as they are applied to Business Management and also People Management. The basic principles of Agile suit our new world of fast change, global impact, and a young workforce that is indeed agile themselves. Small teams, self-organisation and self-responsibility, rapid projects, rapid adaption to change, and customer involvement are the hallmarks of Agile in Business.
Sadly, a range of organisations are adopting aspects of Agile without sufficient knowledge, preparation or training. While it sounds like a silver bullet, we know that there is no such thing. For Agile in Business to work, a business must invest in it and create a culture where Agile with thrive. It is indeed a paradigm shift from our old methods. There is a danger that Agile in Business will become slogan-ised and meaningless. Yet Agile, but its very nature, must not become a doctrine or a rigid set of processes and practices. It must remain agile as well.
Agile in Business has core principles, adopted and adapted from Agile Software Development:
- Satisfaction: Customer/Stakeholder satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable outcomes
- Flexibility: Changes are welcome, even late in a project or task
- Turnaround: Project/Function value is delivered quickly
- Integration: Close, daily cooperation between business people and project teams
- Experience: Projects/functions are built around motivated individuals who should be trusted
- Co-location of Team: Face to face communication is the best form
- Sustainability: The ability of a team to maintain a constant pace
- Technical Leadership: Constant attention to quality and excellence
- Simplicity: The art of eliminating unnecessary work
- Structure: Self-organising teams (but not loose teams) produce the best results
- Improvement: The team reflects regularly on how to become more effective and adjusts accordingly
Agile in Business is attractive to companies as it leverages the ability and knowledge of their workforces, thins out the management layers, reduces cycle times, potentially cuts costs and increases staff engagement. We are seeing Agile finding its way into many aspects of business and people management, for example Performance Management. But the premises of Agile will present difficulties for some people. As Agile in Business practices are adopted, workforce profiles will change – technical and team experience will be needed to foster the self organising teams, and flexible, adaptive people will predominate in workforces.