Living through a pandemic has shown us that businesses need to be flexible and resilient to thrive in this new era of business. In a time when so much is uncertain, businesses must be willing and able to constantly adapt to changing circumstances.
Agile provides an execution framework for accomplishing exactly that. By taking people out of their functional silos and placing them in customer-focused multidisciplinary teams, the agile approach allows businesses to rapidly identify and respond to new ideas.
Even those outside of the agile development team have an important role to play in supporting agile at their organization. We will examine how leadership can act as advocates to the agile development team, and therefore empower growth and innovation.
Agile vs. Traditional Project Management
To start, let's review the difference between agile and traditional (waterfall) methodologies for project management.
Waterfall works well for linear projects where the team knows exactly what they need to do to get the job done. The traditional command and control, sequential “do this then that” approach.
On the other hand, agile works well for dynamic projects focused on new ideas and innovation, where multidisciplinary teams uncover unknowns and need to learn and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances to create the best possible outcome.
Agile is a kind of manufacturing system for new ideas. It is the practice that enables organizations to act on their new ideas.
- Tim Brown, IDEO CEO
What Makes Agile Adoption So Challenging?
Moving from a more traditional waterfall, command and control approach, to agile isn’t an easy task. The most common reason why agile adoption fails is because company leadership is not fully bought into the process.
Successful agile software development requires an openness to address unknowns via an interactive process of discovery, test, learn, and iterate. Leadership must understand the importance of innovation as it pertains to company growth, and learn to overcome their fear of change so the business can progress and evolve.
If the organization does not support the team in experimentation, the team will not be empowered to practice true agile.
Empowering Growth and Innovation Through Agile Development
For agile to be truly successful, it is essential that business leaders become agile advocates. This means they are not only bought into the idea that agile will provide better outcomes, but they actively support their team to by paving the way for them to succeed.
Here are ways that business leaders can support their agile development team, and therefore empower growth and innovation.
Celebrate Problems When They Arise
Recognizing problems help us improve and grow. The best agile teams take failures and turn them into learning experiences and successes.
While “fail fast” is a philosophy commonly associated with agile, what agile really allows teams to do is “learn fast.” Without making missteps, the team will not have the opportunity to learn where they can improve.
This can be scary for leaders that are not used to an agile environment. However, when agile teams are able to overcome small failures, they learn how to prevent larger ones in the long run.
Trust the Team to Make Their Own Decisions
Agile teams need the ability to work quickly and address unknowns when they arise. Long bureaucratic approval processes can become significant roadblocks in allowing teams to access the tools that they need to innovate.
In order for teams to capture opportunities, they need to be able to act autonomously. This requires full trust from the organization that teams are experts in their own domain. With this trust, teams will be empowered to optimize processes as well as ask for, modify, and use the tools they need to create the best possible work.
Understand the Difference Between Capacity and Throughput
Focusing on throughput means that the emphasis is put on how much a team is producing, and not how much each individual member is working.
By not forcing each team member to constantly perform at their maximum capacity, they have more time available to support each other and solve problems when they arise.
Efficiency is often lost when trying to do too much. The most important thing should always be the outcomes the team is delivering as a whole.
Commit to Stability to Achieve Innovation
In order for the team to focus on impact and delivery, the organization should prevent them from experiencing instability or shock. Distractions are a threat to the productiveness of the team and can prompt counterproductive coping behaviors and poor decisions.
The organization as a whole needs to be educated on agile so that they also understand when their own actions can be detrimental to company innovation.
Successful agile development is contingent on full buy-in and support from all levels of an organization. When an agile team is empowered to explore unknowns, the product becomes more innovative and better serves the user and the organization as a whole.
If you want to learn more, here are some helpful resources: