Agile is a business process methodology that is often applied to software development. This involves breaking up a project into multiple sprints—say every week or two—so as to get quicker feedback from users. This can be especially impactful for mature organizations that need to be more innovative.
But Agile has other aspects. For example, the teams are usually small. There is also a focus on collaboration with the team and other parts of the organization.
“The Agile way of working is rooted in the philosophy that the market and world around a business is always changing,” said Jordan Husney, who is the cofounder of Parabol. “There are always new competitors, new opportunities, and other signals to pay attention to that deserve a response.”
Yet Agile is not just about software development or large organizations. In fact, it has proven to be quite versatile for any department in a business.
Just look at Beyond20, which is a management consulting and training firm. “Our marketing team breaks their work into one-week sprints and writes user stories for blog articles and other content,” said Erika Flora, who is the president of the company. “As for our sales team, they perform spring planning on a Trello board to plan out the next two weeks.”
So then what are some of the ways a small business can effectively employ Agile? What are the best practices?
Let’s take a look:
Planning: Agile does not mean rushing a project. There needs to be sufficient planning so the team understands what needs to be done.
There also needs to be a clear business objective. What problems are being solved? Are they based on customer feedback?
Leadership: It’s common to have an Agile leader. This person will set up the organizational structure, track the progress of the sprints and encourage collaboration. But perhaps the most important role will be to help create a culture of innovation.
“To be effective, agile teams need clearly defined roles and responsibilities,” said Sarah Fruy, who is the director of WebOps Partner Marketing at Pantheon Systems. “They will be able to move faster with a single point of contact for all high-level decisions.”
Education: Agile can be a shock to the organization and this can lead to push back. The unfortunate fact is that many companies fail in pursuing this approach and this is why there should be a training program in place. Yet it does not have to be extensive and may have a few weeks of instruction. The goal is to provide enough of the fundamentals to get off to a good start.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators): You should set up a few metrics to strive for. And they need to be easy to understand and realistic.
“Agile is an empirical process,” said Ivan Gekht, who is the CEO of Gehtsoft. “For example, for Agile in HR, you can measure turnaround time for a position, retention rate, amount of candidates interviewed per hired, and so on.”
Reviews and postmortems: After each sprint, it’s a good idea to evaluate the progress. Since there will be a focus on user feedback, this will help to lessen the subjectivity and politics of the process.
“It’s not agile if you don’t reflect and improve,” said Mimi Sun Longo, who runs Agile workflows as a design project manager at Gather. “This reflection helps teams recognize if something you’re working on is actually beneficial to your team.”
Software Tools: There are a variety to choose from. They are usually affordable and easy to use. Some of the best agile tools include Trello, Wrike, Asana, DailyScrum and Jira. Although, you can also use something like Excel or Google Docs.
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Tom (@ttaulli) is an advisor/board member to startups and the author of Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction, The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Implementing AI Systems: Transform Your Business in 6 Steps. He also has developed various online courses, such as for the COBOL and Python programming languages.