Video: Agile Beyond IT: Why Should Leaders in Other Areas Use Agile Techniques

Published June 12, 2018
You may be thinking to yourself, “I keep hearing about Agile. It seems like everyone is doing it these days.” And it’s true! More and more companies are adopting Agile principles to become more efficient and react better to shifting priorities.

“Is Agile Just for IT and Software Developers?”

Agile started as a manifesto addressing software development practices. It focused on continuous development of products or updates through series of iterations or sprints. Instead of beginning with a plan for the entire project from start to finish, Agile development embraces change and flexibility, promotes collaboration, and prioritizes customer needs – essential traits for all types of businesses and teams in our ever-evolving world. The full Agile manifesto can be found here, but simply put, Agile is a philosophy or a mindset that’s been proven to help organizations meet their goals, more efficiently, effectively and collaboratively. And research confirms that Agile teams do so more often than non-Agile teams. Agile has become the primary approach in the software world. In a 2015 survey, two-thirds of IT professionals said their company was either using “pure Agile” or “leaning Agile” with only nine percent describing themselves as using “pure waterfall” or “leaning towards waterfall.” In 2016, Barclays, a 328-year old multinational investment bank and financial services company, announced that it was pursuing Agile processes and incorporating Agile thinking in all areas of their business, not just IT. Agile is so flexible that it can even be used within the daily life of families, as a 2013 TED Talk Bruce Feller demonstrates. (Note: Agile-specific story starts about 2:30)
As you can see, Agile isn’t just for large firms, start-ups, or Silicon Valley; its principles can be applied any time you need to get work done.

“How Can Marketing, Finance, HR and Operational Teams Use Agile?”

Here are some Agile practices that you can start adopting today:
  • User Stories: Instead of typical requirements or task assignments, Agile/scrum methodologies utilize user stories. In these, you think about who benefits from your output, what they care about, and what the conditions of satisfaction and acceptance criteria are. Next time something’s due, think about who wants it and why they want it. For instance, I’m a manager, so I want timesheets for this month so that I can submit payroll to ensure employees get paid on time.
  • Sprints: Break work down into a series of weeks, rather than just by start date and end date. Typically, sprints last from two to four weeks. At the end of each sprint, it’s best to look back and see what went well and what didn’t. In planning subsequent sprints, you can review these reports and apply the lessons to so more things go well.
  • Scrum/Kanban Boards: These help visualize work to easily identify who is working on what and how much they have on their plate. On the board, work should be divided up by assignee. By displaying the board in a central location, everyone can track updates, which helps boost accountability; if someone doesn’t do their work, all their teammates can see it on the board.
Typically, Scrum and Kanban boards are divided into three columns: to-do, in- progress, and done, with each sticky note representing a piece of work for one person. All work that is in scope and will be worked on is in the to-do column. When someone begins work on a task, they move the sticky from to-do to in-progress. You can track the sticky notes’ progress across the columns and by the end of the sprint, all stickies should be in the done column. If something isn’t finished, you can discuss why in a retrospective ceremony (see below), and then move the sticky or story to the next sprint. Two of the most popular tools to help with organizing work in Scrum/Kanban boards are Trello, a free sticky board visualization tool, and JIRA, a paid application, which is the feature leader in this area. These tools make it easier to collaborate with teams in remote locations but you can always get started with just a whiteboard and old-fashioned sticky notes.
  • Backlogs: Keep things you want to work on in the future in a single location and update it (or groom it) semi-regularly. If you are using sticky notes, when work is approved and in-scope, items would move from the backlog to the to-do column and then prioritized.
  • Ceremonies: Regular meetings with the right format help foster teamwork, drive engagement and set a regular cadence for consistency, iteration after iteration and sprint after sprint. For example, some important ceremonies are sprint retrospectives, which occur at the end of each sprint. During retrospectives, the team comes together to share lessons learned and areas to improve.

How Infinitive Helps Improve Agile Capabilities

We know Agile, but are flexible enough to know when to use it and when to not use it. We don’t prescribe it, but use it to our client engagements go more smoothly and productively and, ultimately, to help their businesses perform better. For some Fortune 100 clients in Agile environments, we are helping their people teams to start “thinking Agile” so they can see how it applies to their jobs (e.g., in achieving quick wins and build momentum over long-term projects). In a recent engagement, we helped a highly visible non-profit understand their data, build out processes, cultivate an Agile mindset and understand Agile tools and techniques. Rather than prescribing Agile as the solution to all their challenges, we’re working side by side to understand where they need to be able to move faster and adjust more rapidly to feedback. The goal is to incorporate proven principles to help them deliver on-time and on-budget. If you’re a team leader or decision-maker and you think you’re ready to start being more Agile, let us know! Contact us so we can share more of our unique perspective on Agile and the lessons from our successful experience with it.