Five Strategies to go Agile with Your Business—and Succeed
We’ve heard it time and time again: My company needs to be more “fill in the blank” [get better R.O.I.s, get to market faster, produce more]—the list goes on and on. But the struggle is an obvious one: How do you get there?
Hiring an outside firm to help with an Agile transformation can be the first step in the right direction. Not sure what that process will look like, exactly? Curate Partners has tapped the brain of our very own internal Agile Practice Lead, Richard Lovell, who’s been in the business for 20+ years and knows the ins and outs of Agile transformation. Here are five strategies to go Agile with your company and succeed.
1. Be adaptive.
The key is to be ready to pivot. When you become an “Agile” organization, you must be adaptive—not just by getting to market faster but by being more sensitive to customer requirements. You have to understand your customers because they are what drives Agile.
“While being faster to the marketplace, you gain an advantage by not missing opportunities,” says Lovell. “There are so many companies I’ve worked for who take ages to do things. And by the time they get it out there, their competitors have already gotten it out there.”
The issue, Lovell says, is with being first to market. And an employee’s lofty education doesn’t necessarily translate into successful Agile transformation. “You see these guys,” he continues, “they have MBAs, and they get frustrated. I tell them, ‘Well, it was a really good plan—a year ago.’”
2. Start small and test your product.
Many companies think they have to have a fully fleshed-out plan to go Agile when the opposite is true. “It’s about speed and not trying to build a Rolex, right?” Lovell admits. “When you build something, you build it just good enough so that you can test it with a customer, and then the customer can tell you their opinion. [That gives you the opportunity to] pivot without having spent a lot of money.”
Lovell sites Amazon as a great example of starting small. “You notice these little changes to the site and app, and go, ‘Wow, that’s really cool,’ or ‘Oh, that’s confusing.’ And two weeks later, the changes they’ve made have become even bigger and more developed. It’s a way to develop products or services in an iterative fashion so that you don’t invest too much when you fail.”
When you fail, you can pivot quickly (as previously mentioned) because you haven’t invested millions. “I’ve watched so many big companies, in the traditional way of things, go for funding and say, ‘Hey, I need $50 million,’ and then proceed to present a 100-page business plan with fancy Excel graphs, market studies, etc.—and they completely miss the point,” Lovell says.
The point Lovell is referring to is going out and testing the product or service. Then, for example, build microsites, take a small sample of your customers who sign into your website, and direct them based on their IP address. “Agile makes it cheaper to understand your customer,” Lovell says. “You’re more successful when you actually do launch the final product, and you know you’re going to win. You stack your own deck in your favor by not building great, big $50 million things from the get-go.”
3. Get buy-in from the whole company.
While using different strategies for each employee is not ideal, try other tactics.
The strategy is to get buy-in from everybody and get the whole team on board. Then, with an outside firm, have them create a tactical execution. “Fundamentally, you need people to buy into the concept that their lives are going to be easier because they’re not trying to build something big like a Rolex from the start,” Lovell says.
Lovell compares an employee’s time to working towards a Rolex versus working towards building a $35 watch like a Timex. “I might be perfectly happy with a Timex at the moment because it still tells me the time. And then I can add a dial on the outside, a stainless steel band, and all of the extras later—but they’re all fundamentally the same,” he says. “It’s a difference in how you roll it out to people and how you go out and sell it. With large organizations, it’s going to take longer because you don’t want to ‘blow up the factory.’”
By “blowing up the factory,” Lovell means shutting down production entirely for significant changes all at once. “If you blow up the factory, nothing is going out the door. There’s no revenue, no sales—and that doesn’t work either.”
His suggestion is to keep developing products but to do so in a more timely and iterative way, and, most importantly, to not do it the old way and fail miserably. It’s all about the capacity for the organization to change.
4. Change the culture.
Speaking of change, the fastest way to get buy-in from the whole company is by changing the culture. In the beginning, employees will likely disagree with the change. “There was this one client,” Lovell says, “that was resistant at first. But six and a half months later, they realized we were right. We had about an 80% change in that time frame. We changed the minds of that many people because they finally started showing up.”
Lovell admits, “We’d put a meeting on their calendar, and at first, they would ignore it. By the end, everybody showed up. And the employees were actually sorry to see us go once the project was completed. They admitted to learning so much, so anecdotally, I think we were able to make a big change in the culture—and that’s what matters.”
When targeting the employees for change, sometimes it’s best to start at the top when you want a full-on culture change. For Lovell, that means offering a customizable CEO advisory to their personality and the problem they’re trying to solve.
5. Save time, not necessarily money.
When it comes to staffing, you can either work smarter or harder; but you don’t necessarily want to save money when it comes to finding the right hires when you’re aiming for an Agile transformation.
Lovell warns that if salaries don’t match or surpass industry standards, you could risk hiring subpar employees because the pay doesn’t equate to what people expect for their experience levels. “As an example, if you’re hiring in the Washington DC area, there are a lot of big technology and government companies,” Lovell says. “So you’ve got a lot of competition. So let’s say a developer makes $100k on average. You can’t offer $80k and expect to get good people.”
The strategy here is simple: If you hire one outstanding developer at $150k, would they be worth three people at $80k? To entirely go Agile, you have to risk hiring expensive employees.
“We did an experiment with this one client,” Lovell says. “We hired a couple of really expensive contractors. We put together teams in Boston, North Carolina, and offshore. We had completed the assignment in about five months [in Boston and North Carolina], and the team in India hadn’t even started yet.” Lovell continues, “So what’s the cost of that missed opportunity of eight or nine months? There’s value when you’re first to the market.”