What Does Agile Mean to You?

How to implement an agile methodology that is right for your business.

It is hard to avoid the word “agile” these days. The whole concept of business agility comes from the world of software development but—just as software has become essential to the success of most businesses—agile methodology has crossed over into all manner of organizational contexts and business practices. In today’s digital economy, being agile seems like a requirement for success. But the question remains: What does agile mean to you?

Your Needs are Your Customers’ Needs

You may feel your company should be “doing agile”. But to really benefit from agile, you need to understand what’s in it for you. The most recent Last Adopter podcast discusses how organizations should think about how agile is relevant to their specific business needs. In the episode, guests from GE Transportation talk about their agile transformation, lessons learned and how they have been able to drive real business benefits.

Here’s a key take-away: Start your agile journey by asking what you expect to achieve. How do you hope to benefit from adopting agile? Everyone will have their own unique answer to this question, but there’s one common factor that will (or at least should) be common to every answer: the desire to optimize customer experience.

That’s a good place to start—think about what your customers are looking to you to provide or what problems you can help them solve. Once you know this, the other elements of your agile model should emerge organically, and you will be able to design methodologies that make it possible to rapidly deliver software products focused on your target audience’s needs, know whether these products are successful and adjust accordingly.

Stay in the Loop, Stay Ahead of the Game

This last point is particularly important. Agile companies are built to change. Customer needs evolve so quickly that you must always be able to adapt, pivot and iterate at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, agile companies are continuously gathering feedback from their customers, to get the most up-to-date insight into customer needs and expectations so they can make the most relevant changes at the right time.

This applies not only to the optimization of existing products but also to the development of completely new products. By being constantly engaged with your customers, you have the real-time insight it takes to identify and quickly act on emerging opportunities. Perfect products don’t just spring from the minds of genius product managers, they develop from an engaged, open and iterative process.

Opening up to Agile Culture

That may not be an easy lesson for your product managers to learn, which is why the “built to change” concept must also be applied to company culture. A cultural disruption or transformation is an inevitable part of agile adoption. And fundamentally, this transformation must be about empowering the people on the ground, who are doing the work. This, in turn, requires strong leadership and a good deal of formal training.

More than anything, all of this requires a willingness to adapt. Luckily, there seem to be no lack of willingness, even among large enterprises you would expect to have deeply-ingrained corporate culture. These organizations know that, to stay relevant, they need to become agile. 

Surya Panditi
By Surya Panditi | October 11, 2017