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The agile executive: Four key learnings from the agile manifesto

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Being agile is about more than software development. It’s about building business processes that are easy to pivot and change. After effects of globalisation (and advances in technology) have forced modern businesses to confront markets of unprecedented dynamics. By being more agile, organisations are able to adapt and evolve to meet these shifting markets. Old methods of doing business are no longer effective in the face of this widespread disruption.

An agile executive is an executive able to commit easily to change. An agile executive is not dissuaded by disruption in their market; rather, they are able to view these disruptions as opportunities. Further, agile executives are able to learn from the core values of the agile manifesto in order to better improve their own business strategies.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Modern organisations are choosing to invest more in their employees. An agile organisation turns on the skills and talents of its employees. The right employees will be able to adhere to changing environments and business processes. Conversely, relying on business processes rather than employees creates an intractable business infrastructure that cannot respond readily to shifting expectations.

An organisation’s C-suite is able to create an organisational culture that focuses more heavily on individuals and interactions rather than set business processes. By creating this company culture from the top down, an organisation can foster a more agile business atmosphere through its employees. Modern leadership techniques are designed to empower the right employees to do the work that they are most skilled at.

Company culture is able to inform the actions and approaches of employees when they aren’t given specific direction, reaffirming the company’s commitment to its agile business practices. Employees who rely strongly on processes are likely to be left adrift if they encounter situations that are non-standard, while employees who have an agile methodology impressed upon them will be able to encounter these tasks in stride.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Agile methodology values the product over the processes and documentation intended to deliver the product. Rather than creating a set of rigid standards and documentation that must be adhered to, the agile methodology instead places a product in the hands of the customer as soon as possible — and then begins to evolve that product based on the customer’s feedback and goals.

A side effect to this is that the organisation does not spend large amounts of administrative time documenting their processes and their products. In agile methodology, this time would often be wasted as the organisation would end up in an endless cycle of revising and reviewing their documentation. Agile methodology abandons many unneeded business processes, instead strategically leveraging its agility for tangible results.

However, that does not mean agile methodology doesn’t provide documentation or, more specifically, communication to its customers. Rather, it does not allow for the organisation and its customers to fall into a cycle of endless and ineffective communication. Before engaging in business processes, the agile executive considers whether they are necessary for providing a better end product.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

For any organisation, within the software industry or otherwise, the early delivery of a product promotes a collaborative process between customer and business. Rather than attempting to deliver the product that the company believes the customer wants (or the product that the customer believes they want), both customer and company are able to work together to discover the best possible solution. Often, this may not be the same solution first envisioned.

Once again, agile methodology eschews more rigid business constructs, such as delivering products to initial specifications or repeatedly negotiating the specifications outlined in contracts. Instead, the agile methodology focuses on delivering the best possible product, regardless of whether this product may be different from that which was initially requested.

Customers who are able to take a more active role in their product delivery are more likely to acquire a product that fits their needs. An agile executive will interface with a customer throughout the process of developing their products and services, finding out more about what is or isn’t working about the product that is currently being delivered.

Responding to change over following a plan

Ultimately, the principles of agile methodology are designed to produce the best possible results, rather than rigidly adhering to a previously agreed upon plan. In the past, processes and plans were necessary for consistency and control.  A pre-set plan gave an organisation the ability to enforce standards of customer care, operational efficiency, and product deployment.

Today, plans are more likely to interfere with the development of a product or a service instead of supporting it. C-suites that emphasise their planning and their structure over changes that need to be made are more likely to create a product that is ultimately ill-suited to the customer. None of this means that rigorous planning doesn’t occur, it only means that planning does not take priority over the need for change.

Modern executives understand that change is often necessary throughout the process of planning and developing a product. Innovation has become the hallmark of a successful business and successful business executives.

By incorporating change directly into their business strategy, an executive is able to embrace this change and prevent it from being actively disruptive to their organisation’s business processes.

Agility is one of the most important aspects of being a great leader — but it’s also one of the most difficult to learn. Creating an agile business often involves modifying your core business processes, changing your company culture, and examining your own business philosophies. And this is only one of the major changes in business philosophy that has changed in recent years.

Business is changing. Executives need to change with it. A community of colleagues, advisors, and mentors can help. For more information about the vital changes that are occurring in business and leadership, reach out to the experts at TEC.

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