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Business agility: how to make your business more agile

Melissa Jones  |  21 April, 2017

Business agility is a concept that embraces methods that were pioneered in the software development and manufacturing industries. It describes the qualities in a company that allow it to respond and adapt quickly to changing market demands and customer needs.

An agile business is one that is not slowed down by processes, conventional ways of working or slavish adherence to a plan. Agile businesses are nimble, responsive, flexible and adaptable.

Business agility helps companies to solve problems faster. Their staff benefit from improved team morale and the business as a whole can adapt more quickly and effectively to changes. Adopting an agile approach cuts out wasted effort and delivers quality over quantity. The outputs are not only better, but they are also produced in less time. All of this brings distinct competitive advantages that help ensure a company’s long-term success.

What is agile methodology?

Agile methodology is a systematic approach to business management. There are several types, most of which originate from software development practices, but which have successfully been adapted to fit business teams in general. Agile methodologies share common features such as:

  • Flexible team working. Agile methods generally work best for teams of around three to eight members. Teams don’t have to be static, and members can be cross-functional.
  • A “backlog” of work. This is essentially a large list of projects and to-do items that is regularly refined and added to.
  • A shared view of the workload. The to-do list is shared with all team members. Often a team will use agile project management software, such as Jira, LiquidPlanner or Workfront. But many teams employ a simpler method, like a notice board and post-it notes.
  • A prioritised workload. The to-do list is continuously being prioritised. Team members can confidently pull new work from it, knowing that they will be working on the most important project next, according to the company goals and strategies.

Make your own business more agile

Work in sprints

Sprints are a defined length of time during which certain tasks will be achieved. A sprint is often one or two weeks long, but can last for three or four weeks. It’s all about speed; working to achieve fast, easy gains, rather than slaving, marathon-like, towards more complex goals.

Think short-term

Agile methods approach short-term goals. They may well be part of larger, longer-term objectives, but because they are broken down into tasks that can be achieved during short sprints, only the next most important projects are tackled. The aim is to quickly mitigate or neutralise short-term threats and to capitalise on short-term opportunities. The longer-term objectives can be shaped by the outcomes of the sprints. It’s in this way that business agility is truly achieved and a company can change direction quickly and easily if needed.

Dare to experiment

Using agile methods allows your company to try things out. You can conduct small, lower risk experiments rather than taking the big, possibly high-risk plunge. You can use a sprint to test things out and respond accordingly. Make sure you respond according to the data and results of the tests though, rather than reacting based on conventional ways of doing things or opinions not based in fact. This kind of experimentation brings a business agility that allows you to respond to change rather than diligently following a plan.

Employ fluid role definitions

If you give your staff fluid roles rather than tightly defined ones, it allows them to be more self-organising. With a prioritised workload, a staff member can function autonomously, yet still interact with others in their team and in the company to complete their actions or part of the project. With an agile approach to HR, role responsibilities are not fixed, but remain flexible, according to the needs of the projects that are underway. This sort of collaborative effort prioritises people over processes, with considerable success.

Hold daily stand-up meetings

One feature of agile methodology is the team working. To encourage this and to maintain the momentum of a sprint, short daily meetings take place. They are often termed stand-ups, as they are best held standing up, to ensure brevity. Each team member explains what they did yesterday, what they will do today, and whether or not there are any constraints blocking or affecting their progress. Any issues are dealt with outside of the meeting. Find out how to have meetings that don't suck.

Take time to review

Agile working helps companies to learn and develop. It teaches businesses to innovate a bit at a time, and to then review and reflect on what went well and what could have been done better. After each sprint, hold a retrospective meeting to review the achievements and the failings. This iterative sprint-and-review method encourages continuous improvement within the organisation. 

Business agility holds to a set of principles and values that represent quite a shift in mindset for many organisations. But the approach drives market disruption and product innovation and means companies can respond more quickly to market changes. Agile companies benefit from improved business flexibility and staff collaboration. This allows them to deliver products and services to their customers more effectively, more efficiently and – most importantly of all – more profitably.

Are you ready to make the transition to agile? If it seems like too much of an overhaul to your current way of working, you can always start small. Start with prioritising a team’s workload, for example. Or initiate a sprint approach to tasks, with daily stand-up meetings. Once you and your employees have seen the success that business agility can bring, you can scale up across the company.

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