Agile process management stresses collaboration and a willingness to make changes over time. Here’s how your business can take advantage of this ideology.
The manifesto for agile software development has revolutionized the way information technology and software development projects get done these days. Agile process management stresses collaborative, face-to-face communication and a willingness to make changes over time to meet evolving customer and user needs. Agile software developers, for instance, won’t spend months or years planning to make a “perfect” product. Instead, they seek to deliver products in shorter time cycles and then use feedback from customers to make continuous improvements as they go.
This iterative approach to managing projects is not only faster than traditional project management, but it has also resulted in higher quality for users and more engaged project teams that work closely with each other and with customers. Here’s a bit about what you can learn from this ideology and how you can apply it to your business.
Agile vs. Traditional Projects: Business Lessons to Learn
A fully planned, traditional technology project might spend millions of dollars and two years developing and delivering 100 features that users initially said they needed. On the other hand, an agile project might spend a quarter of that money and time to deliver the 20 most important features customers need, and then add more features moving forward.
Traditional projects tend to offer a one-size-fits-all approach that delivers more functionality than customers could ever need or want. Research on technical projects by The Standish Group International, Inc. found that only 20 percent of the features built are frequently used by customers, while 80 percent of those features are infrequently or hardly ever used. By taking an agile approach that starts with customers’ most urgent needs, you can deliver customer satisfaction faster and at a much lower price. You can also better engage your customers because you work closely with them and use their feedback as part of the project or product development process.
Agile Approaches Work in Business
Agile isn’t just an approach to improving software development. It can also be used to run your entire small business. Here are four of the dozen principles in the manifesto for agile software development that may serve your business well.
1. Keep Things Simple and Don’t Overdeliver
Agile’s tenth principle is about meeting customer demands while not delivering more quality than they want. It says, “Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.” In other words, keep things simple and don’t deliver more value than a customer wants.
Your goal shouldn’t be to blow customers away with your product, services, or technology. Instead, it should be to satisfy customer needs at a reasonable price. For instance, for many customers, less technology and fewer features at a lower price is the sweet spot. Instead of focusing time and money on cutting-edge features that customers will never use, why not focus time and effort on the basic features that customers use all the time? That’s an agile approach to business.
2. Adapt and Evolve
Agile’s second principle says, “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.” In other words, try to understand that your products and your customer needs should evolve together, so be prepared to be flexible. Use customer complaints as potentially valuable feedback that can lead you to make necessary changes in your products or services. When you take an iterative approach to business, you understand that everything is a work in progress. If you can adapt and evolve, you can grow as a business.
3. Continuously Improve
Agile’s final principle says, “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” Again, agile approaches view criticism and mistakes as useful feedback that can help improve quality over time. Talk about mistakes and create a culture of transparent communication and learning. Agile businesses don’t point fingers—instead, they improve.
4. Create a Supportive, Open Environment
Agile’s fifth principle suggests creating the right environment for your employees so they can grow their skills in terms of meeting customer needs. It says, “Give them [your team] the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” Don’t micromanage or give step-by-step instructions. Instead, provide guardrails while giving them the freedom to find smart and creative solutions.
It’s clear that the agile process may be highly effective for businesses that are outside the realm of software development. Start with these tips, and consider implementing this ideology into your business operations.