In the continuous search for competitive edge, new organisational designs that are being explored, implemented and challenged.  What’s interesting is most of these aim to put more control in user-defined groups that are more or less self-directed and challenge the notion of hierarchy.

Agile innovation is one such approach.  It has traditionally been associated with the information technology and software industries but many organisations are now looking to see if the increased success rates in software development, improved quality and speed to market can be translated into other functional areas. Can agile values, principles, practices and methods be used and work outside of IT.?

Bain & Co, a consultancy, recently completed a study to look at the conditions needed for agile working to have the best chance of driving widespread value.

CONDITIONS FAVOURABLE UNFAVOURABLE
Market Environment

Customer preferences and solution
options change frequently.

Close collaboration and rapid feedback
are feasible.

Market conditions are stable and predictable.

Requirements are clear at the outset and will remain stable

Customer
Involvement
Customers know better what they
want as the process progresses.
Customers are unavailable for constant collaboration.

Innovation Type
Problems are complex, solutions are unknown, and the scope isn’t clearly

defined. Product specifications may
change. Creative breakthroughs and
time to market are important.

Cross-functional collaboration is vital.

Similar work has been done before, and innovators believe the solutions are clear. Detailed specifications and work plans can
be forecast with confidence and should be adhered to. Problems can be solved sequentially in functional silos.
 

Modularity
of Work

Incremental developments have value,
and customers can use them.Work can be broken into parts and
conducted in rapid, iterative cycles.Late changes are manageable.

Customers cannot start testing parts of the product until everything is complete.

Late changes are expensive or impossible.

Impact of Interim Mistakes They provide valuable learning. They may be catastrophic.

Source: Bain & Company “Embracing Agile” HBR May 2016 © HBR.ORG

So you have some favourable conditions for Agile?  If so what is easily accessible that you can take from it?

1/ Embrace Kanban

Let’s begin with the Kanban board. As a part of our work we often roam the floors of the latest offices of blue chip organisations, late at night.  You can tall a lot about a company walking around their offices at night.

One of the first things that you notice in brand new ABW environments is just how fast a new norm of completely clear / paperless is established.  It’s strange to walk around a floor occupied by 100 people and see absolutely no sign of them.   Desks are completely clear.

But the walls aren’t.  Who they are and what they are up to is all on the whiteboards.  In the case of one of our largest clients, the project based ‘neighbourhoods’ are punctuated by Kanban boards.  These are mobile whiteboards that have elaborate Gantt charts, post it note cluster diagrams and histograms and status column diagrams.  They are a work of art.  They are also a focal point for  common purpose.

In agile software development, an information radiator is a (normally large) physical display located prominently near the development team, where passers-by can see it. It presents an up-to-date summary of the product development status.

Newer office designs are increasingly project based and co-located ‘neighbourhoods’.  These areas may have a clear desk policy but it makes great sense for teams working in many functional and project roles to embrace the idea of the Kanban board.  A collective effort to display the facts, numbers and storyboard for the work of the team.  Embrace craft in the electronic age.

2/ Scrum Down

The idea of stand up meetings around mobile work walls is expanding beyond IT.  There are obvious productivity benefits in not having to book rooms in standard 30 minute of 1 hr slots.  Spontaneous stand up meetings are a great way to foster creativity and engagement.  A welcome break from the enclosed stuffy room where everyone sits around a rectangular table nodding off to a powerpoint presentation.

3/ Face to Face  

Agile working advocates co-location of cross functional teams.  While IT and software is largely electronic, agile is all about face to face interaction. The big take away here is to invest in face to face meetings strategically,  and have an abundance of environments that encourage spontaneity and movement.

Collaborative Design Space was founded to help make these kinds of spaces.  Co-design is best done in big groups using a big canvas.  Spontaneity is achieved when two people can noodle over a whiteboard in the office just as easily as on a napkin at lunch.

Conclusion

Agile working, like design thinking, has a great deal to offer teams everywhere. Getting teams to create a very large infographic on the shared mission within the team is a great way to engage and make otherwise anonymous space align to the purpose of the team occupying it. Stand up meetings around a shared view of information saves time and encourages presence. Face to face is the only way to get some challenges overcome, opportunities realised and relationships forged.