Agile working has become the norm for loads of teams across the world. Originally a method used by software developers to create laser-focused and productive teams, it’s spread far and wide to a whole host of industries and organisations. If you want people to work well together, to make sure your resources are used in the best possible way and to gather quality feedback to inform your products or services, agile is for you. It represents a heap of useful techniques you’ll want in your team’s toolbox.
First things first: what is agile working?
Organisations are complex. And this means that work itself is complex, especially with big projects with lots of moving parts and lots of people contributing to the bigger picture. Agile is about making this complexity simple with very clear roles for all participants, with transparency over who’s doing what and with shared daily, weekly and monthly goals.
Teams are kept very small. They have a lot of freedom to achieve their goals and this freedom helps them avoid bureaucracy which can slow down progress. Transparency is very important. Everyone knows what everyone else is working on today and tomorrow and what they worked on yesterday. Everyone also knows how each piece of work fits into the overall product. This makes sure every single team member is focused on the daily, weekly and monthly goals.
Agile teams focus on creating things that work, rather than just creating more and more building blocks that together form a final product. This sounds obvious, but let’s say you want to create a car: agile teams build a bicycle first, then a tricycle, then a motorbike, then a three-wheeled car, then a four-wheeled car. This is a crude example, but it illustrates the point. In agile you make things that work, even if that something isn’t as groundbreaking or innovative as you want.
The important thing is that it’s true to the vision, adds value to the business and can be improved in the future. You build tight and small in agile working, then improve and improve and improve. At the heart of agile is a focus on the end-user. You build quickly, respond and adapt to feedback and to new ideas or ways of working if they better suit your short-term and long-term goals.
Agile working: reviewing the benefits
- Increases transparency: team members say what they are working on every day and any problems are shared and solved. This transparency means that inefficiencies are solved quickly. Work also ends up getting done more efficiently because everyone can better plan their work around others
- Improves focus: agile organisations still have strategic goals but they also have clear daily, weekly and fortnightly goals. When you combine this with transparency, it means everyone is aligned
- Easy to collaborate: because agile working has a set of common processes and principles, it’s easier for people who don’t normally work together to start working together successfully. This is really useful for organisations that employ lots of freelancers, outside agencies or who have lots of people spread across the world
- Adds value quickly: when you work in an agile way, you build a working product or service at every step of the way and improve on it each time. So you’re contributing to business success from day one. This has an added benefit: you can get useful feedback before you get too deep down the rabbit hole and make too many key decisions
But it’s not a silver bullet, right?
Like flexible working and employee benefits, the devil is in the detail. Agile working can deliver big benefits to organisations, but there can be negatives too. Agile is all about delivering products that totally meet the needs of end-users, which requires regular feedback from across the business. This can slow down progress if not managed well. Agile also requires very high levels of transparency, which makes some people uncomfortable from a human perspective. On the flipside, this transparency can help organisations create no-blame cultures.
So no, agile is not a silver bullet, but a set of techniques and ways of working. It was originally created as a manifesto or framework, but as with all tools, organisations should pick and choose what works for them at particular times. Culture may play a big part: not all organisations can adopt all parts of agile working. Sometimes just the transparency is enough. Sometimes it’s the focus that’s necessary to meet very short deadlines. Even just using project management software designed for agile teams could help your team collaborate better.
Agile working: what you need to think about
If you understand what makes agile working popular and why it works, you’ll better understand what bits could work for you. Sometimes it’s even just about mindset: many organisations love the agile approach to making something that works, even if it’s simple, and then building on this simple product. Maybe your team’s struggling with motivation and bringing in this fresh approach could help unite the team.
Many organisations think agile suits the modern world. People have more freedom, less supervision, more responsibilities and areas of focus than ever before. The world’s more complex too and organisations have loads of moving parts. Agile working helps provide structure, a common process and set of rules and a tight focus on success. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why it’s become popular in all types of organisation and across many different industries.