We live in turbulent times. Our customers’ wants and needs are changing by the day, and we face the threat of disruption by our current and potential competitors. For managers, it is imperative to ensure their organisations are able to adapt to these rapidly-changing conditions, lest they risk redundancy.
So, how exactly do we equip ourselves to deal with this uncertainty? The answer lies in fostering a collaborative culture within our organisations where we work with full ownership to deliver high-value products to our customers. Sounds a bit vague but these are, in a nut-shell, the principles on which the Agile Mindset was founded.
In 2001, a group of software developers in the US decided to change their way of work. This decision was brought about by the fact that traditional “waterfall” product management was failing in the face of rapidly-changing conditions. These developers were bound by constraints imposed by their respective organisations’ archaic bureaucratic procedures, micro-managing by line managers, and multiple stakeholders to hand-off work to. This prevented them from making any quick changes to their software to meet new customer demands. By the time they did make any changes, it was already too late. So to break the never-ending cycle of chasing after approvals and waiting for reply emails, they created the Agile Manifesto.
The manifesto contains a set of values that focuses on keeping customers at the core of product design, empowering teams within organisations to make their own decisions, and allowing rapid prototyping and experimentation. Most importantly, it focused mainly on embracing failures and responding to changes, instead of following a rigid plan.
All of that sounds amazing but it is impossible to implement them without a few tools and processes to facilitate the mind-set shift. This is why there are multiple Agile Frameworks to guide organisations in structuring their work in an Agile manner. You may have heard of some of them – Scrum, Kanban, XP, SAFe, etc.
This article will not go into too much depth regarding these frameworks (that will be reserved for future pieces) but it will give you an idea of the reasoning behind the methodologies so you can start engaging your employees to become more Agile.
Customers are at the heart of Agile
Traditional product management follows a closed-silo approach where we do everything inside-out. We collect customer insights at the onset of a product’s lifecycle, but fail to address exactly how we can add value in our stakeholders’ lives by talking to them throughout the entire process. During the development phase, customers are not approached again. This is a key factor as to why a lot of traditional projects end up creating products that customers don’t want. In Agile management, we involve the customer at every step of the process, even during execution.
Agile mandates a shared vision across the organisation
The shared vision or North Star for an organisation provides the backdrop for all employees to do their work. It dictates what the company stands for, who their customers are, how and where they buy their products from, and so on. It gives everyone a clear idea of where the organisation wants to be, which is important because it’s important for everyone to have the same image of a successful organisation. Everyone should know what the organisation’s ideal state is. This allows for proper autonomy in teams, which brings us to our next point.
Agile empowers teams
In Bangladesh, managers have a tendency to micromanage a lot of their employees’ work. They give specific directions and allow for little flexibility. This sort of controlling behaviour perpetuates a feeling which prompts employees to think that they’re just one small cog in a large machine. This feeling of not feeling like their actions are making an impact causes unproductivity, lack of motivation and discourages creativity. In a rapidly-changing world, we need motivated teams who are not afraid to try new solutions. That is why Agile prioritises empowering teams to promote innovation and instil motivation.
For managers, this means taking a step back and only providing high-level guidance in accordance with the company’s North Star. Managers will guide employees regarding the company objectives, but they will allow employees to take charge of how to achieve said objectives.
For employees, they need to be arranged into cross-functional, self-managing teams with complete authority over their respective product lines. These are called squads and their focus is to develop small iterations of their products over a small time period called sprints.
Hopefully the aforementioned points will give you a good foundation from which you will launch your Agile Transformation. If you have any queries regarding Agile, feel free to leave me an email.
Shahrukh Ikhtear is a Senior Executive at Grameenphone, who spends most of his time searching for the fabled work-life-balance. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org