We talk about delivering value, but what we really need is an ability to optimise our business systems around value. Traditional organisational formats are ill-equipped to keep up. Companies adopting a software mindset can use agile to help them adapt, says Andrew Knevitt.

There’s still some misunderstanding around agile. Although agile methodologies were originally marketed as delivery frameworks for software, it was essentially a way of working characterised by volatility, uncertainty, and complexity. The underlying principles that focus on incremental and iterative delivery of value, team based work and customer centricity are particularly relevant to current day businesses. Agile is not just about software, it’s become what we do in business to combat disruption.

So, without further ado, here are three examples of how we’ve helped teams adapt, improve and bring structure into fast-paced environments – at work and beyond.

 

Making work visible

A financial services company was challenged by substantial organisational changes and restructuring. In an effort to support teams, we proposed to coach them in techniques to help them deal with the ambiguity themselves.

We focused on three simple yet effective agile practices of visual management, stand ups and retrospectives. The coaching involved providing teams with the tools and confidence to visualise their work, building a daily feedback loop to manage progress, and then systematically reflecting for continuous improvement.

The teams came from both agile and waterfall environments, project based and run activity, as well as the leadership team themselves. For each team we explored the current working environment, identifying areas for improvement, coaching them in techniques, and facilitating implementation. Teams quickly recognised that agility wasn’t going to solve their problems, but it’ll bring them front and centre.

 

When getting better is BAU

We worked with an internal legal practice presented with issues of stagnation and worry of an absence of innovation in their workplace. There was a degree of ‘learnt helplessness’ as they felt that they never had time to truly address problems within their business unit. As a result, we helped them establish periodic workshops in which the teams could tackle the business problem they’d identified for that session in a relaxed, creative environment.

We’d facilitate the unpacking of these business problems, digging into the root cause, exploring solutions, and engaging in the concept of rapid prototyping built with materials we had on hand. Some solutions were technical, some weren’t. The most important thing was getting them into a rhythm where they could tap into some of the underlying problems creating friction within the business and look for ways to continuously improve.

 

Using KANBAN on the kids

This was not an Industrie&Co project, obviously, but I couldn’t resist including it as it shows just how adaptable agile methodologies are. When my wife had to rush off to Europe to deal with a bereavement I was left with our four kids, working full time with no lead plan. After a day of chaos around chores and homework I implemented a KANBAN board to manage the household in a way that helped the kids share ownership. They understood there was a product owner involved who had to sign jobs off – so when someone cleaned their room it had to go through peer review before approval. A few post-it notes on the wardrobe did the trick – it’s a pretty good life hack.

 

Businesses built on agile principles

There are also growing numbers of organisations building agile into their organisational structure to support them with rapid change. One of the best examples I’ve seen is Dutch nursing organisation Buurtzorg, built entirely around agile principles even though it’s not technology-focused. There are now 9,000 nurses in 90 completely self-organised teams of varying skill sets, supported by an administrative back office. This structure allows the nurses to work as efficiently as possible and ensures that teams can scale with future demand.

Agility has helped us transform the way we design and build software, and is now well on its way to helping us transform the way we design and build a business.