Agile project management involves dividing tasks into short phases of work, or ‘sprints’, with continuous reassessment and adaptation of plans. Stemming from the word agile, meaning to move quickly and easily, it is no surprise that such a methodology goes hand in hand with innovation. Yet this discernible link is too often overlooked and it is exactly this refusal to acknowledge the compatibility of innovation and agile processes that frequently leads to innovation failures.
Agile innovation is inherently about adapting and thriving on a relentless and ongoing basis. Inevitably, the most successful innovators are those who reshape the market, forcing it to adapt to them and hence pushing out the competitors. This may sound daunting and unachievable but this is exactly why an agile approach is required, as it helps you tackle change in incremental stages. Innovation is no longer a choice, it is a necessity to stay ahead of the competition, and an agile strategy can help you achieve it.
“It’s all about agility, speed to market, and faster decision-making processes. As a startup or smaller entity you must innovate or you will never obtain a serious market share, whereas larger corporates already have a specific market share. They focus on competing against other firms of the same size, and lose sight of the smaller companies that grow more quickly than they do.” Marc Cosaert, Consumer Products & Retail Leader for Belgium and the Netherlands, EY
Traditionally, the agile methodology has been applied to the realm of software development and IT, but it no longer needs to be limited to these areas. The idea of an agile approach is to be in a fixed state of reassessment, resolving any impediments quickly and cheaply through experimentation. It is an outward rejection of a top-down approach, instead resting the responsibility with a self-organising team who have a greater level of autonomy. This allows management to focus more on strategy and less on micromanaging.
Although more easily implemented in a smaller company or startup, this increase in autonomy can seem risky to larger companies with a more traditional hierarchical structure. Mistakes and wrong turns will inevitably occur but these are exactly the point of agile innovation. The focus is on reassessing and correcting these errors quickly and with minimal impact. Not only does this provide a useful learning curve for those involved, it also encourages positive change within the organisation.
Developing an Agile Innovation Strategy
The word ‘revolutionary’ sounds a tad dramatic but ultimately a successful innovation leader needs to be a catalyst for change, inspiring positive upheaval within an organisation. Employees will not be motivated to fully dedicate themselves to an agile innovation process if they are not incited to do so by the powers that be. Furthermore, clear objectives are necessary to guide the innovation process and careful monitoring of the entire organisation is essential to ensure an innovation culture filters throughout the entire company.
“It’s critical that leadership gives you the flexibility and breadth of opportunity to try new and different things. Just as important are the logistical and structural support systems that allow you to do that and those come from the true top-level support.” – Kathryn Sheaffer, Senior Associate Brand Manager, Mondelez International
Put processes in place
With all the good intentions in the world, agile innovation will not be a success unless you can establish the internal business processes to facilitate it. Innovation often proceeds on an ad hoc basis but there need to be systems in place, or it becomes neglected. Be open to breaking pre-conceived rules to allow openness to new ideas and change. Ensure that everyone is on the same page with regards to these processes, otherwise it could cause friction; according to research by Scrum Alliance:
“Over 70% of agile practitioners report tension between their teams and the rest of the organisation.”
Working with an agile methodology for innovation will mitigate the risk of disrupting current processes by allowing incremental steps to be made. Furthermore, ensure that customer/client involvement and feedback is integrated into these processes, as this input is a crucial part of developing each iteration.
Agile is speed
Innovation needs to be about speed. This has never been more relevant than in this digitally accelerated age where new technologies are emerging at an unprecedented rate. Quick decisions are key to an efficient process of innovation that allows you to out-innovate competitors. In addition, it further reinforces the importance of clear objectives in order to speed up the decision-making process.
All inclusive process
As we have discussed in previous posts, innovation should be an all-inclusive process that opens up the field to ideas from all levels, both inside and outside of an organisation. In many ways it is the front-line staff, those lower down in the hierarchical structure, who have the most valuable insight into the internal processes and products. Agile innovation ensures these people are heard and gives them the voice they need to innovate. Ultimately, you need to expose yourself to as many ideas as possible and have a system in place to cultivate them.
- Strong leadership that encourages change and experimentation is key to onboarding employees into an agile innovation process.
- It is essential to have the appropriate business processes in place in order to facilitate agile innovation within your organisation and ensure that everyone is included in the process.
- An agile approach is all about speed and working quickly but efficiently to out-innovate the competition.
- Encourage experimentation and do not be afraid to fail frequently; agile innovation allows the constant addressing of impediments quickly and cheaply to minimise risk and disruption.