As Technology Continues to Advance, Businesses Must Move Faster
It’s really quite amazing when you pause and think of how quickly the pace of change is accelerating. As an example, Moderna received the COVID-19 genetic sequence on January 11, 2020. Two days later it had finalized the genetic sequence for their vaccine. On February 24, 2020 Moderna shipped its first vaccines to the National Institute of Health. Researchers injected the first dose on March 16, 2020, starting the first clinical trial. That’s just two months from receipt of the genetic sequence to the start of the first clinical trial. Wow![i]
For comparison, Michiaki Takahashi developed the first chicken pox vaccine in 1974. Clinical trials were conducted for over 10 years and the vaccine was finally approved for voluntary use in 1986.[ii]
As technology continues to advance, the pace of change is only going to quicken, and businesses must learn to move faster or risk having competitors beat them in the market. The dilemma businesses face is how to move quicker. Many companies are turning to agile methods, derived from agile product development, to make their organization nimbler and fleet footed.
Some Companies are Turning to Agile Methods To Keep Up
Like what was done with six sigma, companies are trying to take approaches developed for one discipline and apply them to another, hoping for similar results. In the case of six sigma, companies took a proven method of quality improvement from manufacturing, appropriately modified it, and applied to other business processes. Companies are now doing the same with the agile product development method, hoping this will help them move quicker by making their organization nimble. Integrating agile into your strategies and operations requires more than forming a few cross-functional teams. Let’s look at specific tactics, processes, and strategies companies are implementing to bring agility to their organizations.
Culture Can Get In The Way
As with most organizational changes, the biggest barrier is the need to change culture and behaviors so companies are putting emphasis here. Employees need to understand why the company is adopting agile methods, their role in it, and how they need to change their daily work to support it. Employees need to adopt a new of way working and this may include:
- Working in a cross-functional team that has a singular mission (e.g., reducing steps in their customer journey by half)
- Using independence and assertiveness to pull in resources from the company to accomplish the goal
- Realizing that they may get shifted to another team, task, or goal at any time
While working on the cultural aspect, agile teams can be piloted in specific instances. But quick scale up should be the expectation. The goal of the pilot is to find the structural pain points in the organization that won’t effectively support the processes of agile teams. The agile teams will still need strong central services to support them, but what those services provide and how they provide them will be different. Those differences need to be discovered and adapted to the needs of the agile teams.
Company Structure Can Get in The Way Too
Because of the dynamic nature of agile teams, companies are modifying their HR departments to accommodate moving people around in the organization more frequently. HR departments are also having to be nimbler when recruiting from outside. New career paths are being developed to accommodate agile reorganizations. What does a career path look like in an organization that is no longer matrixed and teams are constantly forming, morphing and dissolving as objectives are set and achieved?
Leaders of agile are also adjusting their budgeting cycles and KPIs. As an organization has success with agile methods, traditional budget cycles that take months or even a year don’t fit with the agile model and slow down teams. Since many agile teams have goals other than profitability and revenue, leaders are also having to develop new metrics for these teams.
Agile burnout is a phenomenon companies are keeping an eye on too. Newly formed teams will want to be successful. Without experience they may underestimate timelines or overestimate their abilities. They may feel compelled to succeed and work excessive hours during sprints to achieve their goals. Leaders are coaching their teams on properly estimating abilities and timelines or bringing in new team members that can do this for them to prevent their teams from burning out.[iii] [iv]
Don’t Let Agile Teams Become Islands
The strong focus on teamwork in the agile model may make teams feel that they can’t outsource tasks or functions. This can be a challenge when the team lacks certain expertise they need. Leaders are exploring ways to bring in key suppliers as team members to create better partnerships, integrate suppliers into their agile teams, and bring needed expertise to their teams. There are some instances where DIY makes sense and others where it doesn’t. Leaders need to help their teams figure that out.[v]
One instance where this outsourcing issue arises is with research. Most teams, regardless of function, need some kind of information and research to support their work. Business leaders have been equipping their teams with DIY research solutions to drive down costs and increase speed. A DIY model can speed up cycle time to obtain the necessary insights, however, it creates some important, unintended consequences. A DIY model changes the day-to-day job of the knowledge worker from providing critical insights to stakeholders to spending more time on the technical aspects of research, such as survey programming, data aggregation, and database searching. Teams struggle to balance time between the technical implementation of the research and being thoughtful about the business implications of the research. In other words, they spend more time hunting for information and less time applying information.
High-performing agile teams take advantage of the combination of DIY research with the methodologies and capabilities of a value-added partner that can provide meaningful alternatives to the shortcomings of a pure DIY model. This allows agile teams to take advantage of the speed of a DIY solution while avoiding the limitations of being completely on their own.[vi]
Agile Teams Need Goals
Agile for agile’s sake isn’t a good reason to adopt the methods of agile product development. Like the misapplication of six sigma, it can lead to negative outcomes like a drop in productivity, longer cycle times, or souring customer experiences. There must be specific goals that agile methods or teams are put in place to achieve, such as reducing steps in the customer journey, decreasing customer effort, or getting to market faster. Simply being agile for agile’s sake should not be the goal.
Learning from Others That Have Succeeded
There is nothing more educational than hearing first-hand from other leaders that have successfully scaled agile in their organizations. You can read every case study that is published about companies that have successfully scaled agile, or any other reorganization, but you won’t learn the tips, tricks, and insights that a leader who has done it successfully knows. Big Village provides this first-hand knowledge to our clients through our competitive and strategic intelligence research. We track down and interview leaders every day to learn about their experiences implementing strategies in their organizations. Learn more about our Accelerated Intelligence service and read about other ways we can support your competitive strategy.
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Written by Brian Reuter, SVP at Big Village Insights.