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Five Lessons Learned From Agile Processes

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Mightybytes recently hosted our longtime friend and author Pamela Meyer at an event discussing her new book, The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams, and Organizations. During the event, we explored how leaders, teams, and organizations are changing how they do business in a changing world.

The Lessons

Studies have shown that software projects using agile methods have higher success rates, but these methods aren’t just for software projects anymore. Agile practices can be used to address just about any business challenge. So what are these practices and how can they help your organization? Here are a five lessons learned from Pamela’s presentation, comments from our panelists, and questions from our audience.

The panelists included:

  1. Tom Barr, Knowledge Manager from Enablon
  2. Kate Eyler-Werve of Mightybytes
  3. Tim Frick of Mightybytes

Lesson One: Being Agile Isn’t About Moving Fast, it is About Adaptability and Learning

Agile companies don’t put a death grip on project plans. Rather, they know how to “say yes to the mess” of complex projects. Agile teams and organizations build the capacity to learn and adapt in the midst of change and the resilience and ability to re-group when things don’t go as planned. And, these firms are in a state of continuous learning and capacity building. They take in, respond and adapt to real-time information and are able to take a step back and learn from experience.

Lesson Two: Our Changing Business Environment Requires Agile Methods

Business today is complicated and agile is an urgent business need. Paraphrasing the military, Pamela notes that we now regularly operate in a state of VUCA:

  1. Volatility
  2. Uncertainty
  3. Complexity
  4. Ambiguity

As a result, companies need to be more agile in their day-to-day approach to business: responding to the unplanned, spotting and acting on opportunities, and turning challenges into opportunities. Pamela mentioned Adapt or Else, a recent New York Times article about AT&T who, in response to increasing competition, is training more than 280,000 workers to be more agile (i.e., responsiveness in writing code, analyzing data, etc.). The company sees this as critical to its own sustainability and competitiveness.

Lesson Three: Agile Companies Don’t Become Agile by Chance–the Decision is Intentional

Becoming agile requires an organizational shift and buy-in from leadership. The definition of a leader in an agile company isn’t based solely on job title or salary but on their ability to spot opportunities and respond to them. Tom reflected on his many years at Motorola during which he experienced multiple CEOs. While one was virtually inaccessible, the other was approachable and consistently interacted with all levels of the firm. It was obvious that he wanted to share his leadership with the company (which he did successfully, proving that company size isn’t necessarily an obstacle).

Lesson Four: Agile Teams Focus on Preparation (Not Planning) and Should be Evaluated on This Basis

Agile teams work toward shared purpose but can also improvise without a plan (think Second City improv teams). While planning has long term benefits, it is important to note that over-planning is actually detrimental to success. Agile teams focus on preparing for the day-to-day so they have the capacity to respond to whatever, whenever. With this shift, companies should rethink how they evaluate employee performance to include how employees respond/adapt to change and deal with the unforeseen. In more regulated industries, employees need to be given parameters in which to think creatively given the realities of their business situation.

Lesson Five: Agile Processes Lead to More Collaboration and Better Solutions

In addition to increased productivity, projects that utilize agile processes have more collaboration and better results (and thus greater employee and client satisfaction!). At Mightybytes, we can build better software and stronger solutions because we work hand-in-hand with our clients to determine and prioritize their needs. By focusing on highest value deliverables first, we make sure the most important things are built up front. Then, if budget becomes an issue toward a project’s end, features on the chopping block aren’t critical to success. We also encourage constant communication between our project managers, developers, UX teams, and designers to ensure we can respond to changing needs as they arise. At Enablon, Tom’s team has developed a “Quick-Start” method. Instead of getting clients’ software requirements upfront—since they often don’t understand what they even need that early in the process—Enablon puts all assumptions aside and provides clients with existing software to work with so they can determine what they actually need.

More Resources

Interested in learning more about agile? Here are some things you can do.

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Free Download: Agile White Paper

Want to learn more on this topic? Our white paper on agile methods will show you how to manage complex projects with ease.

Download the White Paper

Tim Frick is the author of four books including, most recently, Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services, from O'Reilly Media. He is @timfrick on Twitter. Mightybytes is a full-service creative firm for conscious companies and a certified B Corporation. Connect with us on Twitter or fill out our contact form.