The Harvard Business Review has recently published a report: Agile Practice: The Competitive Advantage for a Digital Age.
Note, the title of the report is that Agile is ’the’ competitive advantage. For digital companies where the market moves fast and some apps are routinely updated on a daily basis, there’s no option – Agile has to replace more traditional ’waterfall’ ways of working, or they simply won’t keep up the pace. The report points out that the premise of ’Waterfall’ is that planning, design, development, testing and implementation take place sequentially, but if we wait for each stage to complete before starting the next, it simply takes too long – and it’s difficult to be adaptive to changing conditions.
But the benefits of Agile spread beyond digital environments and software development. Let’s face it, it’s a fast moving world and we can’t be certain any more that what we may document as ’the state of things’ today is still going to hold true in a week’s time – never mind in six months when the product is ready for testing. But, the companies featuring in this 2015 research confirm that the benefits of agile are greatest when it’s embraced at an organisation-wide level, and when cultural change occurs alongside process change, to make collaborative and iterative ways of working the norm.
Collaboration is really powerful from a corporate perspective. It’s so much more than just having a customer representative on a project team, and can break down dangerous departmental silos that encourage people to push problems on to become someone else’s responsibility. Repeatedly, the report suggests that open-space working environments, with no walls and divisions, encourage genuine collaboration, trust, and a sense of joint responsibility. Project visibility increases, and breakdowns in communication occur less often. People can see what everyone else is working on, building transparency and a high level of trust that allows successes and failures to be shared. Sharing allows others to learn, but it also means the team can respond to changes that may otherwise have remained hidden until the last minute – allowing necessary amendments to the project to be made at the earliest possible time.
It’s interesting that increased employee satisfaction is listed as amongst the key benefits of Agile, together with speed to market, higher quality and lower costs. The report doesn’t discuss why that might be, but I couldn’t help thinking of this in terms of David Rock’s SCARF model. Rock says there are five domains of social experience that our brains treat as serious survival issues. These are Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. In an Agile environment, empowered teams work closely together in a spirit of openness and trust. They can make their own decisions (albeit within agreed boundaries), and collaboration with the rest of the business is built into the Agile process. It seems unsurprising that the report suggests Agile can improve employee satisfaction by between 20% to 40%.
You can read the Harvard Business Review Report Agile Practice: The Competitive Advantage for a Digital Age here, and if you’re inspired to learn more about Agile Project Management, why not join our next AgilePM qualification course?