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Agile: more than a method, a purpose


By Juliana Miranda, Account Manager at ília

It’s no longer news to anyone that we live in a world of constant change and crises, impacting all of us globally and at high speed.

There are actions of digital disruption, environmental crises, political upheavals, financial shocks, and so on. Surprises are abundant nowadays.

In such a dynamic reality, companies from all sectors seek ways to become more easily adaptable and agile.

After all, they need to learn to thrive in unpredictable and constantly changing contexts. In fact, this process of organizational change has gained various names. Digital Transformation, Digital Organizations, Modern Organizations are some examples. In this article, I’ll use the reference of Agile Organizations.

For this reason, agile has been increasingly recognized as a solution for organizations.

In fact, in the article “Why Your Company Should Invest in Agile to Overcome Challenges?” I point out some references to agile frameworks that have helped businesses overcome the changes brought about by Covid-19. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth reading, especially if you want to have a more practical view of the situation.

That said, let’s detail what an agile company is and how it excels in a dynamic reality.

What does it actually mean to be agile?

Contrary to what many may think, innovation is not an exclusive characteristic of agile organizations. It is common to find companies, even the most traditional ones, that have some sort of concern with innovation, albeit sporadic.

The differentiating factor of agility, however, is that this innovation does not occur sporadically, but rather systematically, sustaining itself as crises come and go.

Thus, the company becomes capable of gaining strength and market share, even in the face of a crisis. On the other hand, market competitors less adept to changes are toppled over amidst so many fluctuations.

To excel in this scenario, organizations, both emerging and established ones, need to incorporate the mission of developing some essential capabilities, which contribute to accelerating new sources of growth and productivity. Some examples of these capabilities are:

The starting point for this change, however, must be one: the customer experience. Placing the customer at the center of the organization emphasizes the pursuit of a satisfied consumer, also intensifying the search for solutions to the inherent inefficiencies of the business.

The challenge of incorporating agile

Any organization that decides to invest in agility soon realizes the importance of looking at the most basic dimensions in order to restructure its operational model.

However, the most challenging process may be incorporating agility into the company’s purpose, something that only happens after careful work with the core of any company: its people.

Although the implementation of agility necessarily involves all the most basic dimensions of the company, such as Strategy, Processes, and Technology, it is the People dimension that offers the greatest challenge. After all, it directly involves a change in the company’s culture.

Therefore, we come to understand why even an organization with numerous agile teams may not consider itself an agile company. After all, for innovation to cease being sporadic and become systemic, this change must pass through the company’s culture.

Is agile for every company?

A variation of this question arises in many conversations I have with leaders of companies from different sectors and operational models. And yes, agile is for every company.

However, more important than the frameworks themselves is the way of thinking and acting. That is: delivering value quickly and constantly, focusing on work to build solutions, responding quickly to changes, and promoting continuous improvements based on learnings.

The main reason why agility doesn’t work in some places is usually poorly constructed agility itself. It is very common to see change initiatives that use agile practices but do not succeed for various reasons, and in the end, agility ends up being interpreted as the cause of the problem.

Another point to consider is that other areas take on more of a support role (HR and Finance) or control role (Audit and Compliance). Consequently, such areas will not use agile frameworks as frequently as innovation teams.

However, for an organization to truly become agile, these other areas must incorporate agile thinking to support and manage. This is important even for them to understand that some bureaucratic processes do not make sense for agile teams.

For this reason, even though agile work models are more frequently used by innovation teams, it is desirable that all areas of the organization share certain agile thoughts, values, and behaviors. Thus, all areas of the company will be in line with the agile methodology, even if this work model is not common to all of them.

When does agile work best?

Each organization has a unique transformation journey. Consequently, the reasons for unsuccessful cases of agile framework implementation are varied.

For the same reasons, there is no guaranteed formula, but there is a combination of common factors that determine the success of the change, which together facilitate adoption and change. They are:

  • Organization and action purpose focused on the customer;
  • Consolidation of the idea in people that their work is also about learning new things;
  • Engaged and supportive leadership, with a real intention to be an example of agile values;
  • The vision that growing and developing teams is more important than cost reduction;
  • Teams that most need to adopt agile frameworks are those with agility needs to deliver value to the business and the customer;
  • Teams composed of multidisciplinary profiles and dedicated to product development;
  • Support for people or services with experience to accelerate learning;
  • Understanding the importance of time to further develop the agile culture of its practitioners/multipliers.

Adopting an agile approach in the organization basically means moving away from a model based on large plans, which already require enormous effort to manage them, and adopting an approach more focused on hypotheses. Some actions that help in this initiative are:

Establishing very clear goals in a year’s vision, but in smaller deployments and deadlines, such as the OKR Model.

Guiding that teams, especially innovation teams, focus on the most valuable work.

Innovation is as important as operation

One of the things that can hinder changes towards a more agile organization is the overvaluation of innovation. So much is said about the importance of a company innovating in its products and creating disruptive markets that all this intensity can give the impression that a company’s operation is no longer as important.

Mistake! It is necessary to take care of innovation as well as the operation of the company to become an agile company. These are complementary and interdependent forces. This joint action is commonly known as organizational ambidexterity, or, in the term used by José Salibi Neto, the company running both engines: Innovation and Efficiency in operation.

Therefore, a modern company is one that strategically has these two systems being transformed with a focus on the business and the customer. This, of course, without neglecting to incorporate innovations in operation, as long as it is verified that their quality is stabilized.

In practice, what are the gains from using agile approaches?

In addition to organizational adaptability, already mentioned, other examples of benefits in agile organization are:

  • Greater ability to manage changes in priorities.
  • Better visibility of projects and their results.
  • Quick adaptation and recovery from failure.
  • Business and IT aligned and working together.
  • More motivated teams, leading to lower turnover.
  • Agility in entering the market.

Finally, it is important to conclude that agility is not something that is done, but something that becomes. We know that there are several challenges to be faced to make an organization agile, especially when it comes to changing how people work and interact daily.

Here at ília, we’ve had the opportunity to contribute to several organizations that are promoting their digital transformations. We work, mentor, and also face together every bureaucracy that hinders delivery, every operational and technological challenge.

We draw from our learnings and continuously reinvent ourselves in processes, technology, structure, and people. This way, we’ve managed to simplify people’s interactions and become an increasingly flexible organization with innovative individuals. Our gains have been diverse, and our results have been increasingly better.

And in your organization, what challenges do you face in simplifying relationships and achieving organizational agility? Let’s embark on this journey together, talk to us.