A 50% higher positive return when introducing new products. 60% more recruitment among the best candidates. Twice the number of employees who are emotionally involved in their work. 40% more customer requests to the Marketing department asking for more information. IT companies that have adopted the agile method are reporting impressive performance, significantly above anything their competitors could hope for. But this is true in all business sectors – from aeronautical construction (Saab) and energy (General Electric) to public radio (NPR in the US).
Yes, it’s true in all sectors, but they all have something in common. Each of these companies has taken its inspiration from the methods used by startups. But while the benefits of the agile method are undeniable, a project manager might feel a little daunted at the prospect of being won over to the new approach and adopting it in their work in the face of their company’s highly structured management environment. So how can big groups become more agile and be inspired by the startup ecosystem? Agorize is here to help with a few practical tips and tricks.
1. Understand exactly what agility means for companies
Some members of senior management associate agility with anarchy (everyone does whatever they want); others simply think of it as meaning that management’s decisions are implemented more quickly. But agility isn’t either of these.
It’s important to mention that there are several variants of the agile method. They have a lot of things in common, but they differ in a number of aspects that are nonetheless important:
- the Scrum approach: this is a way of resolving complex problems by focusing on creative teamwork. This approach makes teams more adaptable in response to the issues they face, thus boosting their effectiveness.
- lean development: this method involves identifying and eliminating as many as possible of the time-consuming processes and actions that slow down the way an organization works and give no benefit in return.
- the kanban method: this final method focuses on reducing wait times and the amount of work currently being dealt with. Essentially, it involves dividing a project into sub-tasks, which are then divided between members to limit the amount of time wasted and the amount of work to be done.
It’s clear that the basics of the agile method are relatively simple. To address every opportunity, companies generally need to use teams of three to nine people. These multidisciplinary teams have all the skills they need to carry out the project they are assigned. They are independent and responsible for all aspects of their work, which is a pre-requisite in the agile method.
At all times, the process is fully transparent for everyone:
- A stand-up meeting is organized every day, attended by all members of the team. This is a short meeting to track progress and assess obstacles
- Disagreements between team members are resolved through trials and feedback rather than endless debates and intervention from superiors
- A number of hand-picked clients test beta versions or prototypes of the products/services the team develops. If these prototypes are well-received, they can be marketed immediately, even if a senior executive disagrees
- The team then agrees on brainstorming sessions to improve their work and moves onto the next priorities.
The benefits of the agile method – widely renowned and proven – are multiple. Increased agility means increased employee satisfaction and productivity as well as fewer long and unnecessary meetings, and above all, allows management to focus on tasks with higher added value that only they can do.
2. Start off small
When it comes to structural changes, major groups have the unfortunate tendency to go too big, too fast. But it’s often small steps that lead to the biggest success.
The Harvard Business Review tells the story of a software engineer at John Deere, the two-hundred-year-old farming equipment and machine manufacturer. George Tome began quietly using the agile method in his team in 2004. Over the years, other software teams gradually adopted the method, which helped introduce it to other departments.
In 2012, Tome, who by then had become an R&D manager, was worried that the traditional management approach was slowing down innovation, and decided to put the agile method into practice on a large scale. He hired a coach, and he himself worked on convincing people within the department, including by publishing weekly articles on the principles and practices of agile companies. He would email out the articles, which were then shared on the enterprise social network to foster discussion among employees. The articles provoked a lot of comment, and the teams gradually became convinced of the benefits of the agile method. Tome’s efforts weren’t in vain: well-being and engagement among R&D teams improved, the quality of projects increased, and the speed of execution of tasks (measured by the volume of work carried out in a specified period of time) increased by over 200% on average – some teams increased their speed by over 400%, and one even achieved an 800% increase!
3. Take inspiration from the startup culture to find a new approach to team management
While avoiding stereotypes of a startup business culture that focuses more on the external appearance than any actual positive impact (like so many do), major groups have everything to gain by taking inspiration from startups’ agility within their own approach to management. This doesn’t mean installing ping-pong tables on every floor, creating a ‘trendy’ atmosphere and recruiting exclusively based on charisma, but it does mean taking on board certain aspects that could work for your company.
The startup culture is known for the way it improves employees’ well-being at work. There are a range of drivers that can be used to implement this kind of business culture:
- An infectious passion that comes from the founder or founders. Whether it’s about people, the planet or their profits (depending on their business), entrepreneurs have a passion like no other, and they can foster the same passion in their employees.
- Personality. Put employees first and create an environment where they can express their personalities, with open working spaces and a few human touches (length of service awards, employees’ photos on the walls, etc.)
- A ‘nothing is impossible’ mindset. Just like Google’s “Work Hard Play Hard” mindset, the startup culture does mean hard work, but it also means making your own rules. Employees at successful startups are constantly optimizing the way they work.
- A sense of belonging. This means making sure that every employee knows that they can make a difference and that their work has a real impact on the company.
And of course, we couldn’t talk about team management and startup culture without mentioning Spotify. To optimize its productivity and stay at the peak of innovation, the Swedish music streaming service implemented an agile system for its engineers in 2012. Dividing its teams of engineers into ‘squads’ of 8 people, Spotify dissolved its operations hub to give employees the chance to choose their own tasks. Squads are small, independent units within the company that are self-organized and have their own tasks. As well as squads, the model also features tribes, chapters and guilds. Tribes are formed of members of squads working in the same field, whereas chapters and guilds are there to maintain proper communication between squads.
For example, a squad will include a range of different engineers and developers in the team – a front-end developer, a back-end developer, a tester, a UX (user experience) developer, etc. A chapter is formed of front-end developers from several squads. A tribe is a group of several squads, and a guild is made up of a set of people working in the same field, such as IT security.
The next step: open innovation and intrapreneurship
Whatever stage your company is working at, whether it’s an SME or a major group, taking inspiration from the startup culture can help you to keep things fresh, maintaining your flexibility and sense of innovation – all of which translate into a competitive advantage.
Intrapreneurship is one of the most effective ways of introducing more agility as a major group. Intrapreneurship involves a team within a large organization taking an entrepreneurial attitude to their work. As a contract between the company and its most enterprising employees, it’s a chance for the business to retain its talent and for staff to set up businesses without giving up the security of being a salaried worker.
Intrapreneurship is one of the most effective ways of introducing more agility into a major group.
Fantastic! But where do you start with your intrapreneurial project? Open innovation is undoubtedly one of the quickest and most effective ways of bringing this intrapreneurial spirit into your company. In practical terms, this means organizing an internal hackathon – a competition that encourages employees to put forward their most relevant and innovative solutions to a business issue. As well as accelerating your digital transformation, internal hackathons are an excellent first step towards intrapreneurship. Following the end of the hackathon, an intrapreneur program is launched to help your most motivated talent to innovate and push limits within their company.
Instill more agility by starting with simple and effective techniques, taking inspiration from the best practices of the startup world – that’s what makes internal hackathons a winning bet.