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How to Use an Agile Workflow to Grow Your Business

agile workflow

Agile was born as an iterative approach to software development. Since then, it grew beyond the IT field. Now companies apply Agile workflow across industries for everything from marketing to developing hardware and aerospace engineering.

And the reasons for that are entirely obvious. They include an impending economic crisis, an unstable business environment, increased competition, market transformation, shift to customer focus culture, and many more. All of them force companies to seek a more flexible approach to running a business.

If you are no stranger to these challenges, it’s the right time to consider Agile values and principles as a new direction in uncertain times.

I’ve been practicing Agile for around six years. First, as a software development methodology, and later for other processes in the company – marketing, human resources, etc. From my own trial and error experience, the shift to an Agile mindset is full of challenges.

It took us a great deal of time until we worked out an Agile adoption strategy that perfectly fits our company goals. As a result, we managed to improve workflows, increase business performance,  get higher revenues, reduce time to market, and satisfy customers.

That is why I’ve packed what I learned into six simple steps. They’ll help you reform business processes with Agile thinking within a much shorter time frame.

A Six-Step Guide to Make Adoption of Agile Workflow a Success Story

Step 1: Explore the Agile Concept up and down

Most businesses start shifting to Agile without a clear understanding of the concept.

There are two reasons why you need to dive deeper.

Firstly, it is expectations. You need to understand how this set of rules works to define a clear-cut intended outcome.

For instance, even in software development, we start a new project by acquainting our clients with the basics of Agile terminology and workflows. For this purpose, we wrote a step-by-step guide (mindk dot com) in other words, an Agile tutorial. It helps people understand what to expect from the process and determine areas of responsibility.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Agile, its main idea, as a software development methodology, is to split the project into small parts (called iterations). Each of the iterations focuses on releasing a small valuable piece of the product as quickly as possible and learning from the feedback. Besides, this feedback is used for further improvements.

Secondly, you need to define your ability to apply Agile workflow or adjust it to the needs of your organization.

One of the authors of Agile Manifesto, Dave Thomas, says that to improve the agility of the whole organization, you should follow a cycle of simple actions, namely:

  • find out where you are at the moment;
  • take small steps to your goal;
  • adapt your understanding given what you’ve learned; and
  • repeat.

Сonsequently, business agility is all about taking baby steps and continuously checking whether you are moving in the right direction.

Short Success Story: PepsiCo and Agile mindset

Here is a case in point.

In 2017, global food and beverage leader PepsiCo suffered a decrease in growth rate. Searching for a way to boost top-line growth, the company came to an Agile mindset.

By adjusting its principles to their internal needs, the company balanced the adoption of new technologies with a focus on clients and staff. For PepsiCo, agility meant a less formal, less rule-based, and more fruitful way of working. Hence, this venture led to a completely new company culture, better growth rate, stoked innovation and increased employee satisfaction.

Step 2: Check out Precautions and Challenges

Although Agile can bring huge business value, it is more successful in certain situations than in others.

As far as the whole Agile software development life cycle relies on flexibility, teamwork, and transparency, it’s adoption in large organizations may present certain challenges. As it means applying changes across the entire corporate chain, starting from processes to operation, culture, and behavior.

The most critical thing Agile workflow demands is a shift in behavior.

Thus, large organizations need to understand that embracing Agile at scale may reveal certain problems. Some of them may not be evident when embracing Agile for individual projects or within small and medium-sized companies.

Additionally, there are certain types of projects when full Agile adoption is questionable. They are mostly long term projects with a stable set of requirements where mistakes may be catastrophic for the whole company.

On the contrary, Agile suits well for projects where the problem is complex, solutions are still unknown, changes are possible during the process, and the team works in close collaboration.

Such conditions are common for several processes like product development, marketing campaigns, supply-chain operations, sales activities, recruiting, allocation of resources, etc. While for others, like accounting, legal branches, or other types of strictly regulated units, using Agile may be challenging.

However, challenging doesn’t mean impossible.

The best way is to analyze the operational model of departments in your company and decide which activities are better suited for Agile. That is, where you can break a complex problem into parts and hand it to a multifunctional transparent team.

In this way, you are proceeding to the next significant step.

Step 3: Draft a Kick-off Plan

Starting has never been easy, so start small.

For a start, identify the part or parts of the company you want to transform and how. After this, decide what Agile practices you will use, taking into account all the elements like processes, people, technology, etc.

Do not forget about Agile enthusiasts that will drive the adoption inside the units and defining time frames needed for such a transformation. This is how Agile adoption happened in one of the leading enterprises in winemaking, Mission Bell Winery.

The company decided to use Scrum (one of the most popular Agile frameworks) to meet the criteria of Safe Quality Food Level 2 certification. They introduced Scrum training, set a goal, and appointed Agile pilots in each department.

After they noticed its positive impact, the company continued implementing Agile and increased the yearly finished goods inventory process by 90%.

Step 4: Build a Shared Vision

Business results are a collective effort. Moreover, employees feel a personal and emotional commitment to their work when they work towards a common goal. This rule works perfectly in the Agile transformation process, too.

Thus, a clearly stated vision is more than a values statement or a mission. It is what guides your company through changing environments. It presupposes that all team members should base their work on the same list of priorities.

A shared vision during the Agile adoption will help you measure the progress and success, as well as make major decisions.

For example, CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, states that one of the pillars of their success is explicit and transparent purpose statements on all the organizational levels. The whole company is operating like a city, where decentralized decision-makers are united by common values.

Step 5: Adopt Experimentation and Continuous Learning at All Levels

Innovations are intimately related to Agile. In general, we can define innovation as an effective application of creativity that focuses on building a solution to cover people’s problems most cost-effectively and flexibly.

This is exactly what Agile does.

The process relies on experimenting, testing, and learning from mistakes.

This is great for startups, but other organizations can benefit from Agile workflow, too. Just think about how your company works toward developing business strategies, or guidelines to senior executives, or product launch strategies.

As a rule, these processes involve too much guessing and assumptions. In the end, you might even find out that you followed the wrong plan.

Instead, try to involve the stakeholders during the whole process, keep yourself up to date, thus ensuring your team focuses on what really matters. Testing, creating “safe to fail� tryouts, and learning from mistakes gives you a great opportunity to respond quickly to changes.

This is the heart of Agile experimentation.

This is how micro failures you can afford to prevent you from macro failures you can’t endure.

Embracing the iterative agile lifecycle to building machines helped the farm equipment company John Deere to shorten the innovation project cycle up to 75%.

Previously, they required about nine months to identify a new market opportunity and five to ten years to develop the product and bring it to market. With the Agile approach, they can go from idea to a working prototype in just eight months.

Step 6: Shift from Authority to Partnership

The organizational structure of traditional companies is synonymous with hierarchy – relationships between superiors and subordinates.

Agile organizations reject authority. Instead, they opt for autonomous cross-disciplinary teams. This requires partnership based on freedom, trust, mutual respect, and managing by agreement. Without this critical shift, Agile is a waste of breath.

Besides, leaders in agile companies are not inspectors. They focus their efforts on supporting rather than micromanaging. They are creating environments where each employee is welcome to contribute to the process, take part in problem-solving, and take over the responsibility for the results. The seniority in such teams rests on the depth of knowledge and behavior.

Massive two-year research by Google found out that one of the common characteristics of high-performing teams is a sense of psychological safety. It makes employees feel comfortable, talk openly, suggests ideas, and be comfortable enough to admit they don’t know something or disagree.

Introducing Agile workflow to the legal team of the largest travel guides publisher Lonely Planet helped to improve productivity by 25%. Previously, the team suffered from exhaustive daily demands, lack of transparency in priorities, and unrealistic deadlines.

Business Agility: Key Takeaways

Implementing Agile thinking throughout the firmly established company is no easy thing.

However, these steps are the pivot point in Agile adoption, and they focus on changing the mindset of the business. Sure, it is only a start, and much more work should be done further.

But a correctly applied iterative approach will enable companies to move faster than before, drive innovations, and adapt to the changing environment of here and now.

Remember that any attempts to implement Agile practices independently may fail until they are combined with an Agile mindset!

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How Today’s Startups Can Adapt to a Globally Distributed Model

globally distributed model

The world of work is transforming. Although it’s tempting to blame it all on the coronavirus situation and its formidable ripples, the pandemic only accelerated the processes of globalization and digitization that have been underway for decades.

Among its many implications, the digital office means that jobs don’t necessarily need to be done in-person, and today’s startup leaders are realizing that many projects can be done at a lower cost remotely, without any drop in quality.

Still, COVID-19 helped tip the balance towards a globally distributed model.

Factors that are tipping the scales

Government restrictions and fears of infection pushed companies that had previously held out to accept remote working, and many discovered that it’s more manageable than they had expected. Managers realized that there’s little difference between employees working from home on the other side of town and employees working on the other side of the world.

What’s more, outsourcing projects and ongoing operations to offshore teams on a contract basis is a more flexible model that’s easy to scale. A flexible model is especially helpful for startups that can’t always predict what talent they will need when, and have low budgets that force them to hire for project work instead of filling in-house positions.

Given the economic fallout from COVID-19, more and more companies are falling into this category, with an estimated 41% of startups nearing the end of their funding runways, according to Startup Genome.

And finally, running subsidiaries and offices in numerous countries push business owners into overcoming mental barriers to global expansion.

A globally distributed business model allows you to hire the best talent wherever in the world it is. For example, the best R&D teams for your needs might be based in the Ukraine, whereas the best designers may be in Germany.

Transitioning to and managing a globally distributed model isn’t plain sailing. Obstacles to success include enabling collaboration and communication between geographically and culturally distant teams, handling multiple HR and tax requirements, and managing multi-faceted operations around time zone differences.

As with everything in startups, making this change is easier when you plan ahead, but companies that had globally distributed working forced upon them by COVID-19 can still make life easier by following these suggestions.

Automate as much as possible

When you’re running a globally distributed business, you have to adhere to multiple regulations. Each country has different requirements for healthcare and social services contributions, tax obligations, and classifications for types of companies and their obligations to others. Some of these differences are dramatic, while others are nuanced.

For example, you may think you’re hiring a freelance outsourced team that doesn’t receive health benefits, but in your new worker’s home country, she may be considered a contracted employee, with all the rights that go along with that relationship.

In these complex situations, the more you can automate, the better. “Moving to remote work is more than simply changing from an office environment to a distributed workforce,� Papaya Global’s Alex Margolin reminds us. “In the long run, taking advantage of the opportunity remote work offers means building a global vision. This starts with implementing automated tools that will allow your company to grow.�

Automation also helps overcome the dreaded impact of time zones on scheduling. Automated scheduling platforms and smart shared calendars convert meeting times into local time for each participant – and help you check the time in different time zones before you accidentally schedule a meeting for 3am in India.

Create a cohesive team

Whether you’re hiring workers for a short project, setting up a long-term outsourced team, establishing an international partnership, or connecting with a third-party vendor or supplier, it’s vital to support effective communication and collaboration. The various branches of your business can have different work practices and cultural assumptions that can lead to clashes unless you facilitate a smooth working relationship and personal interaction.

As IBM CIO Fletcher Previn puts it, “Some of the biggest challenges for employees revolved around simple human-to-human interaction. When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to have impromptu interactions with colleagues and build friendships.â€�

You need to help everyone connected with your company to feel part of a global team instead of a group of collaborating clusters and individuals. People crave a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves – this depth of cross-functional engagement boosts satisfaction, decreases churn, and increases productivity across the organization.

Previn’s recommendations are to “Define clear guidance, rules, and policies. Train employees on remote etiquette and provide tools for teams to collaborate and contribute.” And no, email is not enough; you’ll need many communication and collaboration channels, including messaging apps and video-conferencing platforms.

Establish policies that promote connection, like a virtual happy hour or fun conversations. Celebrating every holiday in every culture and country where any of your workers are located can also strengthen the sense of being part of a diverse, global team.

Open up access to information

When business lines stretch across countries, time zones, and continents, data can easily get lost along the way.

Remote workers, outsourced teams, distanced managers, suppliers, and more can all struggle to access the information they need at the right time. Time differences can leave knowledge workers waiting 24 hours or more just to get access to one file.

Data is the lifeblood of every business, so it’s vital to set up practices and platforms that enable everyone to get timely responses to questions, find documents, and more. Embed data and analytics in a way that allows all employees, workers and partners to access them and draw actionable insights, without compromising on security, and data protection compliance.

Support agile working practices

Succeeding with a globally distributed business means decentralizing the hierarchy into a flatter organization.

The fast-paced business world favors small, nimble teams that support agile decision-making. C-suite executives must devolve responsibility onto team managers and experts on the ground, giving them the authority to take the initiative and make decisions – otherwise, your global business will be stifled by bottlenecks.

This intersects with the need for good communication to build trust relationships and remove the urge to micromanage. In the words of Owen McGab Enaohwo, CEO and co-founder of SweetProcess, “Micromanagement derails active and ready-to-work employees — ensure that you maintain a certain level of trust, and you randomly check in on your team from time to time. This will help them perform efficiently and productively.�

Delegating authority to your distributed workers makes them more productive and happier. Slack found that 86% of people who enjoy working remotely say that they have a great deal of autonomy at work, while 77% of people who don’t like remote working say they lack autonomy.

A globally distributed model is attainable

Invest in advanced tech to automate awkward processes and improve communication and trust; support free access to the necessary data; and give all participants in a globally distributed business the responsibility they need to do their jobs effectively.

Globally distributed companies are the future for business, but they require the right mindset.

Image Credit: ketut subiyant; pexels

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