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Applying Agile Practices to Business Teams

If Not Software Development, Then “Who…?”

Agile practices have proliferated into business lines such as Marketing, Human Resources, Legal, and beyond. Agile can not only transform an organization’s approach to software development, but also its enterprise departmental functions, project management practices, and product development. Moreover, in order to survive an ever-changing environment, creating more innovative, cross-functional, and multidisciplinary teams that generate growth and increased skillsets has become paramount - across the entire organization. Taking an Agile approach can boost self-organization and employee engagement among business teams while breaking organizational silos that present barriers to communication and collaboration.

As self-organization and skillsets grow, barriers are broken down, collaboration increases, and a business team’s agility matures. As Rigby, et al. state in Embracing Agile, “as an organization progresses in Agile adoption, they must extend beyond the vocabulary and create a supportive environment that embolden the “conditions for Agile.” The favorable conditions for Agile - based on the market environment, customer involvement, innovation type, modularity of work, and impact of interim mistakes - extend beyond developing software. While they affect many development functions, the authors also note these conditions apply to “marketing projects, strategic-planning activities, supply-chain challenges, and resource allocation decisions.”

Adapting Agile Behavior

The key to broadening Agile adoption is the adaption of new mindsets and behaviors of the individuals that make up the business team. It begins with creating visibility and transparency of work, systems-based or otherwise. Over time, mindsets change as individuals continue to adapt more Agile behaviors, such as:

  • Breaking down project work, or initiative-based tasks, into iterations (i.e. sprints),
  • Creating a backlog of prioritized projects and tasks,
  • Setting and working in iterations, or sprints, with agreed goals,
  • Creating a “working board” of projects and tasks, (which can be supported by a tool),
  • Scheduling daily 15-minute check-ins (instead of holding lengthy staff meetings), and
  • Focusing on velocity / capacity, versus speed.

First, Agile behaviors are not beholden to any one framework (i.e. Scrum, Kanban, etc.) and can conceivably be implemented without one. These behaviors simply help establish a more transparent, collaborative Agile environment, even beyond software development.

Second, Agile behaviors not only accommodate visibility of the business team’s work, but allow for better prioritization and breakdown of project work and tasks. They also support the setting and achievement of short, targeted goals and increase collaboration among team members. Finally, Agile behavior encourages communication of progress within and outside the team, without adding lengthy meetings that take away from prioritized work.

Creating a Responsive Environment

In addition to changing the mindsets and behaviors of the business teams, the organization itself must also adapt. As Agile adoption progresses, the organization must champion a supportive environment that enables its individuals to better respond to change and shifts the measurement of success and business value to meeting customer needs. According to the Agile Alliance, Agile is “the ability to create and respond to change in order to succeed in an uncertain and turbulent environment.” That responsiveness is matured over time through the incorporation of customer-focused, cost-effective Agile practices.

Like software development, an organization’s business departments, project management offices, and product development also face complex problems - often with many unknowns or changing requirements that can only be addressed as more information becomes available. By breaking efforts down, partnering with end users / customers to obtain rapid feedback, and eliminating silos through cross-functional collaboration, these groups can leverage an Agile approach in order to face challenges in a more responsive manner. Organizations can support the agility of these groups through encouraging the adaption of Agile behaviors and by creating a responsive environment.

For more information on how specific domains are applying Agile practices to their business, check out the following:

Good Reads

These are good references for understanding the application of Agile practices to Business Teams: