How to Know if You are Agile Enough

If you’re not involved in software or you work for a small company you may not be really familiar with the term “Agile” as is relates to how a company operates. As a side note and one of my “peeves”, everyone in government who argues about tax reform and regulations operate under the assumption that depending on the industry, there can be 500 to 1,500 employees and still be considered a “small business”, so don’t be offended if you’re in a “small business” since 48% of all businesses in the U.S. are under 500 people. But I digress. My point today is that being “agile” is important for everyone, because it’s way more about attitude than process and more about the working environment or culture than methodology.

Here’s as good a definition of Agile as any: A collection of methodologies that promote adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, continuous improvement, and a time-boxed period of time to complete a body of work. Quite a mouthful. I find that in most organizations Agile means a collision of a Command and Control, and Leadership and Collaborative styles. To employ it successfully requires an understanding of how people think, feel and actually work on projects. It requires approaches that take human behavior into account. After the marketplace has used years of real live Agile based projects, it’s certainly proven itself as a good thing to aspire to.  So much so, that many times we may believe we’re agile even though we may not be. You can do your own research about that, as I know the web is full of assessments you can use. But before you bother to take the time to do that, why not just do your own assessment with your gut. Ask yourself if you think there’s any reason to explore it, and then take that questioning one step farther and picture what it might look like organizing your folks into multidisciplinary teams, or ‘tribes’, to be orientated around delivering specific outcomes to your customers. Is your gut recognizing that there’s no easy decision? As there are a few people who really embrace and love change, there are people who manage that process effectively, and who really struggle with change. I hope your “gut” is thinking that through. You’ll know you’re trusting your gut if it’s already sharing with your brain the names of people around you that are excited about becoming more connected to customers and in touch with their needs.

Make no mistake, Agile’s history shows it has less impact in smaller businesses. Many times small businesses feel they don’t have the time or money to work with consultants or don’t feel they need agile, because they’ve never suffered from the slow-moving bureaucratic processes of their larger counterparts. Yet small businesses have much to gain and many times find it easier to adopt, so they get more bang for their buck faster.

So here’s what I believe Agile is all about. One thing. One word. One action. Listen. It’s about being systematic in listening and collecting feedback. Active listening is like your gym membership – you know what to do…it’s just that you don’t do it. So can we agree that to be successful you have to really understand what your customers and prospects actually need – which is not necessarily what they think they need – and give it to them. How are you going to do it? If you listen enough and have documented what will lead to greater satisfaction and loyalty would that be useful? For instance, let’s say you’re in a service business and people seem confused about how your service is of great value to them or different from anyone else’s. Could you take on a Agile project to see if there’s any way to simplify what you offer? You know the “I just want the light to come on, I don’t need to know how electricity works” adage. If you’re using Agile encouraging collaboration and encouraging all staff to think about the end customer. It’s not just about being more productive or getting more work done; it’s actually about getting more value out of the work you’re doing.

Agile may not be suitable for all, so that’s why I ask you to do the gut check. Hmmm, you also might set out to ask questions and proactive Agile by listening before you think about adding it to your success plan. Here’s what I know for sure. Customer and prospect preferences are always changing and with communication technology what it is today, it’s changing rapidly.  Seems like a good reason for us all to be more “Agile”.  I hope you’ll let me know if you’re up for it. If you want some of the materials and processes I’ve been involved in just drop me a note and I’ll share.

How to Know if You are Agile Enough
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