The set of principles and practices for managing work in an iterative and responsive way, broadly known as agile, has been around for almost 20 years now. Originally intended for software development, agile is less focused on prescriptive practices, than it is on evolving the way we approach work. It encourages us to accept that we don't know exactly how things are going to go, to embrace that fact, and plan for it in such a way that we continually learn and adjust, as we move forward. 

Learn & Adjust: that’s agile in a nutshell.  Many teams and organizations are successfully leveraging agile practices to improve their technology execution and delivery.  This is fitting, considering that agile began as a way to improve software development. Technology, is a space where there is a lot of competency, now. New changes in the business landscape, however, are leading to an evolution of agile, to help address a new set of opportunities.

There are some emerging trends in the agile space that are gaining more and more visibility as companies, vendors, and practitioners attempt to define these new opportunities, and the solutions that can address them.  3 particularly interesting trends have shown up at recent conferences I’ve attended, highlighting the growing focus they have in the wider agile community:

  1. Exploring ways to align and scale agile practices across the enterprise
  2. Expanding the use of agile practices outside of technology orgs / teams
  3. Increasing the focus on consumer-centric design & design thinking

What’s exciting about these trends is that each can prepare smaller companies to go toe-to-toe with bigger, more established companies.  If there’s one thing agilists can agree on, it’s that the ideas, products and services that deliver the most value should win, not the ones with the biggest PR budgets!

Here’s how these trends can give smaller organizations the upper hand:

 1. Scaling Agile can help level the playing field for smaller companies

A competitive market is critical for innovation and the creation of new, better products and experiences, and that means the more successful companies out there, the better. While huge companies like Google and Amazon have size & resources on their side, smaller companies can scale up their agile practices to be just as competitive by:

  1. Strengthening enterprise alignment by planning, prioritizing, and executing work, together
  2. Focusing the entire organization on consistent delivery of customer value
  3. Creating an operating structure that remains responsive to changes from customers, the market, or competition

Each of these benefits are well-known to individual agile teams. But when companies begin to scale their agile practices across their organization, then they can begin to unlock these benefits across their enterprise. That’s when they can become potent competition to other, larger companies.  Agile can help them use their resources more effectively, develop better products, and ensure they continue to innovate!

Agile can help them use their resources more effectively, develop better products, and ensure they continue to innovate.
2. Expanding agile beyond technology teams can benefit the entire enterprise

Over the last 15+ years, companies have become quite good at agile development and delivery in their technology orgs.  Given that success, companies are now looking to bring the same agile principles to other, non-technical areas of the organization – like finance, marketing, and HR.  

Companies are realizing that technology teams can no longer live on the other side of a virtual wall, over which “business” teams throw their requirements.  Almost all business teams rely on technology to do their work, and/or engage with their customers. Encouraging the business functions to use agile practices to define, prioritize, and execute their work will make them better partners for the technology teams, enables the scaling of agile in the organization, and helps ensure that the whole enterprise is focused on creating value.

Agile practices can help bring visibility to all aspects of the work, including strategic themes, portfolio priorities, quarterly goals / objectives, and more. They also provide all teams with a common language, cadence, and structure, which helps drive understanding and alignment across the enterprise. Companies that learn to work consistently and collaboratively across the board will stand a much better chance of success than those that continue to operate in silos.

3. Placing the Customer at the heart of an agile design process will yield better results, faster 

Many organizations have used agile to reduce time to delivery and improve quality, but neither will matter if the customer doesn’t want the product you’re creating.  A product that doesn’t meet a customer need, no matter how well-made, is not going to succeed.

While this is not a new realization, the increased effectiveness and output of agile teams, plus the customer’s expectation that products will quickly change & improve as their needs do, is leading companies to embrace a “Customer Centric” mindset, and agile-flavored design thinking practices.

In the past, marketing and product teams would do the research and engage with customers to define the requirements, then hand them off to the dev teams.  Now, companies are beginning to incorporate design thinking in their agile practices. They have their teams work together to ask, “What problem are we solving?”, to ensure everyone is clear on the need. Then they iterate their way through the design of solution options, before selecting the one that best solves the customer’s problem.  That design then gets added to the agile org’s delivery backlog and prioritized against all other work in the queue.

Making the design process part of an org’s agile practices will help increase the alignment between product and development teams, and also improve the overall responsiveness to customer needs.  

Companies that can effectively blend Experience Design with an agile design thinking process will be able to build a strong product offering.

Many organizations have used agile to reduce time to delivery and improve quality, but neither will matter if the customer doesn’t want the product you’re creating.

How new agile approaches align with Propeller’s Agile Practice 

This increased focus on business agility aligns very well with Propeller’s approach of applying common-sense, proven tools & processes to address client challenges. 

Shiny new solutions aren’t always needed to bring about positive change.  In most cases, creating a clear plan, with well-defined activities & outcomes, and embedded coaching and support, can go a long way toward helping clients on their agile journey.  

How we utilize Agile

Our work at Propeller is to help clients identify their greatest needs and challenges, and then implement changes to achieve success. When people see an iterative improvement cycle in action, they begin to believe, embrace, and execute that process - similarly to how dev teams learn to embrace agile sprints for delivery work. Such a transformation takes time, and is iterative and incremental; small changes, introduced & supported at regular intervals, can lead to huge improvements over time.  Working collaboratively, using agile, you can ensure you’re building the right products & solutions for the customers; whoever they are.