If someone in your organization has a great idea today, how long will it take for your customers to know about or benefit from that idea?
For many companies, the answer is far too long. The pressure to bring new ideas to market faster has typically rested on the shoulders of product development, but it’s also moved to the boardroom, where CEOs are being asked to push for scale and make concepts like Agile work throughout the company.
Agile was designed specifically to address this need for flexibility and speed. The Agile Manifesto was conceived as a set of 12 principles to guide improvements to software development, and each one is useful and relevant, and leads to a more adaptable way of working. But, as companies grasp for proven solutions to the idea-to-market challenge, Agile has become a misunderstood and at times misapplied concept.
To start with, Agile is not a single solution – it’s not a product you can buy off the shelf and impose on your company. There are many unique Agile frameworks you can use. Scrum, Scrum@Scale, Kanban, SAFe, Scrumban, Lean Startup – pick your favorite. All of these methodologies are valid in their own ways, but success with any of them varies depending on your organizational context.
Context is everything. When a company tries Scrum and finds it doesn’t work for them, that does not necessarily mean it’s a bad methodology. There are just too many other factors to control for, from company culture to staff skill level, leadership and more. Indeed, there is no one-size-fits-all methodology for any problem. To improve the way your product development team – or, for that matter, any part of your organization – is working, you need to work within the unique context of your business.
For those reasons, it can be hard for CEOs to wrap their minds around “this Agile thing” and steer their organization toward faster, smarter ways of working. Fortunately, there’s another way to look at it. You can simplify all the new modern ways of thinking into a simple set of principles that bring a new way of working to life in relevant, contextual techniques and practices.
Three Guiding Principles
These principles can be adapted to the language of any enterprise, and they help CEOs create an environment where their people are empowered to implement a way of working that delivers the most value.
Delivering value early and often – Again, how long does it take for a great idea to become a viable product in your organization? If you move away from the notion of large elaborate projects with rigid timelines and codified processes, you can instead focus on incremental work that leads to immediate, practical benefits, achievable results and continuous momentum.
Optimizing the flow of work end-to-end – Significant value is lost in the time it takes for slow-moving companies to make progress. Much of this is between different departments and functions, and there is a need to remove the roadblocks that drive up cycle time, delay feedback and add overhead. Focus on working on the right things; those that contribute to purpose and value.
Discovering quality with fast, frequent feedback – Quality is often measured by metrics like the number of coding errors or product defects – a valid metric, but not necessarily an indication that the team is working on something that customers will find valuable. The only way to know that you’re developing a solution people will want is to build in frequent customer feedback loops.
Putting the Principles into Practice
How do CEOs scale these principles across individual teams and entire organizations? The following essential practices help businesses discover value, flow and quality.
There many unknowns in business, and assumptions are a dangerous thing. To identify what they know and what they don’t know about a given situation, leaders must encourage their teams to carefully test specific tactics, theories and approaches, so they can evaluate the risk of new ideas against the expected impact.
Have you taken the time to understand the value you actually deliver to customers? Can the teams, developers and managers in the organization also understand the value? Do they understand their needs and the motivating factors that drive them to buy from you rather than a competitor? Can you test these value propositions? If you promise to deliver “the best quality for the lowest price”, is that actually true, and can you prove it?
This is simply about making the work that often occurs in obscurity more visible. Great ideas and plans may be hidden away in a notebook or stored in some corner of your lead developer’s brain, but it’s far more useful if you can broadcast those ideas in a visual way to foster collaboration, communication and coordination.
What Success Looks Like
Great ideas are an enviable commodity, and any CEO would love to be able to wave a magic wand and turn those ideas into revenue-driving products. If you’re frustrated because it seems like your organization just can’t seem to make that turn, or that the methodologies you’ve tried haven’t gotten the job done, rest assured that it isn’t an impossible task. In some ways, we may have just overcomplicated the whole notion of business transformation and innovation. At its heart, bringing great ideas to life is really about being laser-focused on customer needs, and removing the mental and operational roadblocks that prevent your team from addressing those needs. Your motive as a leader should always be to empower you people, because they are what drives ambitious businesses.
About the author:
Philip Black, Chief Operating Officer at Emergn.
This article first appeared on Linkedin.