The growing complaints from workforces and customers across the world is amazingly similar no matter the industry.
- “I do not have enough time.”
- “They are throwing too much training (or reports, or customer data, etc.) at me.”
- “Goals are changing too fast (or not fast enough).”
- “No one cares what I think and/or know.”
Employees and teams struggle to keep up with the blinding speed of the delivery of information, big data insights, disruptive technologies, evolving communication channels, and cultural diversity issues.
The digital transformation strategy was meant to help employees battle these issues, but in many ways, it has accelerated the problems. Employees need the right habits to prioritize, collaborate, create and curate actionable information into successful business results. Businesses often focus on speed and excellence in using and acting on customer insights. Instead, how about acting on employee development insights? The employee journey (investments in developing habits) ensures employee collaboration, engagement, creativity, and innovation can quickly adapt to organizational and market changes. Aligning employee and customer journeys has become the most critical challenge facing global business today. Succeeding in only one of these two journeys creates a severe competitive disadvantage.
Technology alone cannot solve these problems; people must develop new habits to build a sustainable culture of performance. Developing the right habits is not an intellectual or philosophical exercise—it’s defined by our everyday activity. Maximizing value in the employee journey is not some ‘ivory tower’ ideal, it is the activities–greeting people, problem-defining, problem-solving, et al. –habits at the core of customer successes. Agile, properly understood, can provide the basis to formulate specific habit improvements that will align the needs of employee and customer journeys. These habit improvements impact employee engagement, culture change, leadership, communication, learning, and making the workplace better for both employees and customers. Agile is the current strategy of successful companies in the battle against chaos and disruption in the digital age.
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How Do Agile Principles Deliver Value?
Internal business processes–even the phrase sounds boring. But lurking beneath that bland description is the habits that unlock real digital transformation for an organization. On the surface, technology is always seen as the ‘answer’–the new toy that will revolutionize an industry. And although technology can be a catalyst for some amazing things–doing the amazing belongs to people and those seemingly boring business processes.
Amazing starts with how people cope with the speed and amount of information directed their way by tireless machines. And more importantly the process to collaborate with speed, agility and winning results. Simple habit changes, incorporating journey based learning and design thinking, can produce amazing synergies between technology, team members, and leadership. Agile culture change within an organization happens by stacking a few habits at a time.
Capitalizing on the Success of Agile Processes
Forbes identifies the benefits of agile software development that make it a favorite among project managers. Which agile principles can your organization easily apply to the workplace and corporate culture environment?
If you’re new to agile implementation or current attempts aren’t delivering results, begin by focusing on these top five goals:
- Faster Feedback
- Constant Change without Disruption
- Identifying Problems Early
- Flexible Prioritization
- High Potential for Customer Satisfaction
These goals translated to dealing with the key pain points of digital age corporations—information/data overload, chaos in media channels, disruption of business value chains, and lack of balance between customer journey investments vs. employee investments. Agile provided processes and roles that enabled companies to deal more constructively with these problems.
The last ten years have seen the success in Agile software processes copied in various ways to all sorts of other business processes. Principles of Agile have been adopted to everything from manufacturing (zero defect lean processes) to business data analytics. The widespread successes of different agile processes have led many companies to seek to implement Enterprise Agile Frameworks. Frameworks are an attempt to scale the Agile success.
A report from Gartner analysts describes the majority of these efforts as the way a “drunken man relies on a lamp post: for support rather than illumination.” The report details the failure is due to either over engineering or rigid bureaucratic systems that grow around all enterprise frameworks. The problem is compounded by outcomes warring between efficient vs. productivity outcomes. Efficiency saves cost and reduce defects, but productivity increases new value creation. These outcomes can require different culture support. To unlock the power of Agile processes in an Enterprise is creating an Agile Culture, not a framework.
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The Role of Agile in Building a Culture of Innovation
Agile provides an understanding of project management structure, project team roles, and most importantly an information architecture to organize requests and changes, turn them into an iterative planning process, creates reliable product/service/feature deliveries and provides a way to measure quantitative and qualitative results. What it will not do on its own is connect/coordinate/leverage all corporate subcultures.
These cultural divides are from the obvious functional (accounting, marketing, technology development, sales, etc.), ethnic, gender to the less obvious introvert/extrovert, does/thinker, etc. It is the company subcultures that will determine if ongoing learning (from failure and success, known and unknown, et al.) and balancing of efficiency vs productivity.
For most companies, to have a more agile organization will require a culture that instills habits to support journey based learning, increase employee creativity and improve their cultural intelligence. That is worth repeating, journey based learning, increases employee creativity and improves their cultural intelligence. Journey-based learning habits start with the quest to improve learning opportunities every day. Increasing employee creativity fosters active engagement in this learning quest. Agile companies use iterative creative projects sprints/hackathons/campaigns to enhance collaboration, performance, and cultural intelligence growth opportunities. Cultural intelligence habits would include everything from mindfulness training to meeting habits that take the best advantage of the diverse culture skill sets of a team
These habits would be the foundation of any company trying to accelerate its ability to innovate and implement new value opportunities AND efficiency improvements. Central to this habit development is is a communication architecture that acts to moderate, direct, curate, model and reward activities that develop, sustain and iterate improvements to these habits. And it is these activities that are poorly executed in most companies.
Threats to Scaling Agile–Corporate Communication Disorder
Cloud based technology have provided amazing easy to implement communication channels. Instagram, Pinterest, Confluence, Github, Zendesk, Slack, Hipchat, Dropbox, Linkedin, and Facebook provide different communication capabilities that used to take IT departments years to rollout–can now rollout in weeks, day and even hours. The ability for individuals and groups to easily sign up and use them without IT groups blessing has changed the staid world of corporate IT to a disrupted chaotic mess. The chaos is mainly a by-product of the easy addictive nature of these tools–easy and fun to use–but the more you use them the more unwieldy they get. Having moderation and curation services is becoming a necessity to realize and sustain benefits from these channels. It is also crucial that these channels align with the innovation culture habits described above. Or these technologies will become a hindrance to achieving either improvements in efficiency or productivity–worse these technologies may degrade innovation and learning capabilities and become an unnecessary distraction.
Adapting to Constant Change
“Agile does not use a lot of planning tools and it emphasizes responsiveness, so it is better at dealing with uncertainty.”
–Peter Cappelli, Director of the Center for Human Resources, Wharton University of Pennsylvania
Change isn’t always welcome by employees, especially if the company has been experiencing an economic downturn or uncertainty due to growth and the potential for acquisitions. The absolute worst thing a company can do is try and implement a swift and fast change with the hope of turning everyone into an efficiency engine. Instead of effective change, they’ll get complete disruption in the form of pushback from employees, lack of participation, increased employee absences and turnover.
Delivering change without disruption is a journey based process. First, behaviors for change are identified. Peer, coaching, and mentoring driven learning is delivered through agile processes, ensuring a collaborative approach.
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Additional Tips and Advice
Identify Problems Early
Problem identification is the core of successful agile implementation. Similar to a marketing department initiative, the culture change journey should be broken down into problem spaces with a variety of campaign solutions to create and/or sustain habits that are predictive of the outcomes you seek.. The campaigns leverage existing channels and programs to identify priority outcomes across teams, departments and business.
The Mayo Clinic provides a detailed case study for Agile problem solving within the healthcare industry. The consulting firm shows how agile methodologies helped them identify smaller problems as pilot projects, and applied the solutions with successful outcomes on a larger scale. The Mayo Clinic example is not without problems and limitations, but it clearly demonstrates on Agile based employee and Leadership habits can ‘move the needle’ for an organization.
Agile companies are built on a foundation of knowledge sharing, transparency, and employee engagement. These attributes allow for flexible prioritization at the project level. These habits are crucial if organizations are to work across sub-cultures and break down silos that reduce performance and create significant problems in delivering business outcomes.
Employee Feedback and Delighting Customers
In a 2016 article, Harvard Business Review identifies a key theme of Agile as Delighting Customers. In the software community, customer collaboration and feedback are paramount to success. At the organizational level, employees are the gatekeepers of valuable feedback. By creating a flexible environment that addresses customer problems as they are identified by employees, companies are paving the way to an exceptional customer experience.
Manage Change on Every Level
If you haven’t invested in digital transformation enterprise software yet, use this Forbes Technology Council Checklistas a guide before making a decision.
Our own David Arnowitz weighs in for recommendation #5:
Agile implementation is all about habit development at every level (sub-culture) of your organization.
Since digital transformation will ignite change at every level, you need to make sure everyone in the organization knows what the mission is, what to prioritize, and above all, encourage them to ask questions. Those who don’t feel empowered to ask will soon become “part of the problem, not the solution,” causing a drop in productivity rather than an increase—not to mention a frustrated employee.