Agile methodology, a strategy that began in the development world, has begun to spread through marketing departments and entire organizations, and for a good reason. Agile strategies are becoming more and more widespread within the business world as professionals find ways to apply agile tenants to their work, solving problems by thinking outside of the box.
What Does It Mean To Be Agile?
Agile organizations embrace change. They use the resources they have to improve operations when and where possible. These resources can include anything from customer feedback to employee talent and disruptive technology.
A Quick Definition of Agile
According to Forbes, the agile model boils down to “responding quickly to environmental changes, rather than keeping to a strict process or procedure.”
Millennials: The Agile Generation
Unsurprising, this flexible work style is popular amongst the Millennial workforce. These agile environments are known for responsibility distribution, fast response times, autonomy, and limited formalities. (Forbes)
In this article, we’ll take a look at five characteristics of an agile organization, along with a real-life example of how agility can save companies a ton of money, while helping them deliver better customer service.
When push comes to shove, how does the agile methodology differ from traditional, what actions are taken, and what pitfalls are avoided?
A World Without Agile
Imagine this scenario: A not-for-profit utility company that services thousands of miles of villages in Alaska receives a new order to power a remote village.
The field worker – let’s call her Rita – leaves on her journey to provide the village with hot water, knowing that she may be traveling for weeks, carefully documenting her journey for the back office.
Doing Things The Old Way
The report Rita creates must be handwritten, and it will be filed back at headquarters when she returns. Multiple copies of the report will need to be made, so that they can be filed in multiple locations. The copy machine further degrades Rita’s sometimes difficult-to-read handwriting.
Once multiple copies of Rita’s report are filed by hand, if the village needs to reference them at a later time, the paper documents will need to be routed manually through the company, resulting in a lag time in the vital services the company provides. Customer service suffers, but there’s no alternative with the company’s current system.
Questioning the Status Quo
Rita wonders why her company does things this way, but when she asks, she’s told that this is how they’ve always done things. She knows her organization could provide better service, but she’s not exactly sure how they’d get there, and she runs into roadblocks when she brings it up.
Stop right there! If this company were following the agile process, things would go differently.
The Characteristics of Agile Companies
Before we talk about how this company could do things differently if they were agile, let’s run through the hallmarks of agile organizations. According to McKinsey, there are five trademarks that agile organizations share. The differences between agile and traditional methods are related to Strategy, Structure, Process, People, and Technology.
Let’s break that down a little bit further by zooming into each of the five characteristics listed in the image.
Agile companies possess a shared vision. Work life at an agile company isn’t about climbing the corporate ladder and stepping on your coworkers. It’s about the success of the company as a whole. Each team contributes to this success the best that it can, with each person using his or her strengths to drive the shared vision home. It’s similar to the the mentality of a startup company, where a skeleton crew is driving the organization, each person shifting in and out of whichever role is required, overcoming obstacles that might be seen as “red tape” in a traditional business model.
At an agile organization, you won’t hear, “No, that’s not my job,” or “No, that’s not my department.” The barriers and formalities of a traditional corporate environment are broken down. You’ll see executives and managers (which may be few and far between) in the trenches, working toward the same central goal as everyone else. Teams are connected and empowered. Information is shared freely. There is transparency across the board, and people are held accountable (and celebrated) for their actions.
Further, everyone’s ideas are heard. When the team is self-educating and working toward a shared goal, all opinions are valuable. When you’ve put together a talented team with diverse skills and backgrounds (more on that below), you never know what groundbreaking ideas may rise to the surface. But this can only happen if you allow an open stream of communication.
This characteristic of agile companies is the tell-tale sign that agile methodology began in the development world. With agile, you’ll see a quickly changing environment, where people are learning and producing rapidly. This is something that is necessary within software development, as technology is ever-changing. But the same principles can be applied within any industry.
In the medical field, consider how quickly new technology is developed – new ways of delivering treatment, as well as new systems that can be used to make the back office more efficient. An agile healthcare organization would take advantage of these new innovations as quickly as possible.
Consider banking as another example. Today, people expect to be able to use apps to do their banking. They expect customer portals where they can log in and see all of their information and make requests. This means that, in order to meet new customer expectations, banks must be on the lookout for new technology that can automate banking, provide customer portals, and securely house patron records.
What about customer service departments within any industry? These teams have a great opportunity to apply the agile process by analyzing their customers’ satisfaction and adjusting their methods to increase their ratings. Most customer service representatives will send you a survey at the end of your interaction with them, right? They may even dangle an Amazon gift card as a way to entice you to fill it out. This begs the question – what are they doing with that information? If they’re using it to change the way they’re providing customer service, they’re clued into the agile mindset.
Whatever industry you apply agile to, the result is the same – rapid intake and output, constantly learning and changing.
Agile organizations are at war for the best talent out there. This is another hint at the roots of the agile methodology. We’ve all seen the push for better culture and cooler work environments within the technology industry. Think about the Google offices, or what you’ve heard about their outrages employee benefits. There’s free food. Employees can take naps during the day, at work! They even provide shared cars.
Why do they do all of this? And why have we seen more and more tech companies stepping up to the plate and offering things like Free Beer Fridays in the breakroom or unlimited paid time off? It’s simple – they’re at war for the best talent out there. They’re looking to build teams of people who have top-level skills and who are brimming with ideas – people from different backgrounds who see things in unique ways and can provide fresh perspectives.
How do you recruit a team like this? Those who can afford it are making their companies the absolute best places to spend your time, hoping that this will increase their ability to recruit people who are skilled enough that they could work just about anywhere.
We already hinted at this in the Agile Process section. Agile companies have a constant influx of new technology. As a start, they use digital documentation, data, and communication. Document management solutions allow them to house all of their documents and data in a secure repository that can be connected to any other business software they use. Enterprise automation enables them to build out their processes, taking control of what is done and how, and letting them make adjustments on the fly, as needed.
When processes are visible to the people who are managing them, it’s easier to determine better ways to do things to avoid hangups and bottlenecks. Maybe resources need to be reallocated. If you’re agile, that’s no problem. Or maybe steps can be automated, freeing your world-class employees to focus on something else that will be a better use of their skills. All of this meshes with the agile mindset.
Applying Agile Methodology to Any Business
Let’s think back to Rita and her limitations at the utility company in Alaska. She ran into problems related to a lack of technology and communication. Her team didn’t have a shared vision with the flexibility to make it a reality. She was stuck behind corporate “red tape,” and she didn’t have a way to share her ideas with the people who could put them into action.
Things in her organization were static, rather than dynamic, with workers continuing to do things the old way, even though there were newer, better ways available – ways that could’ve saved them money and allowed them to provide better service to their customers.
How Can Agile Make a Difference?
Agile can make a difference in any organization, but it has to start at the top. Change doesn’t happen if the leadership isn’t on board. After all, they’re the ones steering the ship.
Fortunately, the leadership at our semi-fictional utility company was on board to start changing the way they did business. Though Rita is a fictional character, Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) is real, and they did struggle with many of the problems described above.
You can check out AVEC’s story here. With DocuPhase’s Enterprise Automation platform, they were able to solve problems related to redundant filing and manually written trip reports. Here’s what they did:
- Converted their trip form to a custom-developed electronic smart form
- Automated processes to take advantage of known business rules
- Used a central document repository to eliminate the need to duplicate documents and filing
The DocuPhase platform dramatically changed the way AVEC operates, and these first steps were just the beginning. With the right technology in their back pocket, they’re now able to apply it wherever they see fit. As new ideas rise to the surface, and as the team thinks of ways they can do things better, they will now have the tools to make those ideas a reality. They’ve used technology to enter the world of agile.
No More Excuses
If you want your organization to become an agile one, it’s time to stop soldiering on, doing things the same old way, carrying these tired excuses:
That’s Not How We Planned It
So what if your team has planned out every action for the next 12 months? If your customers are dropping off, or if they’re requesting that you do something different, doesn’t it make sense to steer the ship in a different direction? Now that’s agile!
We’ve Always Done It This Way
Many organizations get trapped in this excuse. They’ve always done things a certain way, so it’s easiest to continue on in the same direction, rather than dealing with the upheaval of a change. Stop right there! If your process may have a slow bleed (or even a fast one), the more time you take to address it, the more potential growth you will lose.
People Won’t Change
This can be true sometimes, and it’s the biggest fear of many CIOs out there. However, consider that people who don’t want to change are holding your organization back from growth. As a CEO, sometimes you’ve got to stand up and say, “Get excited about this, or get out.” I can’t say I’ve used those exact words, but I have given that speech before, and I’ll give it again. It’s not to shoo anyone out. It’s more of a reminder of our purpose – our shared vision. We’re here to do something great! And every decision we make should reflect that vision. What’s the point of having a team that’s not on board and doesn’t want to see the company grow and succeed?
We Wouldn’t Be Able to Support the Growth That Would Cause
This is a great problem to have, but we still hear it as an excuse for not doing something better. “Yeah, but if we run that sale and actually sell a lot, we won’t have the product to support it.” Wow! Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. Rather than being afraid of growth, agile organizations are flexible enough to deal with the “problem” of growth as it arises.
When you partner with DocuPhase, our enterprise automation platform can create a scalable solution that wipes out this excuse altogether. Hypergrowth is our specialty.
For example, when KnowBe4, the world’s largest security awareness training and simulated phishing platform, was looking for a solution to help them accommodate their hypergrowth, the DocuPhase team was able to identify numerous opportunities to help them solve their growth “problem.” We began by revamping their sales order process, creating an electronic sales order form along with an automated workflow to help them process sales orders faster. The system also gave them full visibility into their process, and it integrated with SalesForce, allowing them to conduct 1-click searches without ever leaving their SalesForce software.
From here, they can expand these same tools into their other departments, wherever those same growing pains pop up. Sounds pretty agile, doesn’t it?
Want to Learn More About How Your Company Can Be Agile?
Check out our article: Be More Organized, Agile, and Data-Driven with Enterprise Automation.
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