The agile mindset – what does it mean?

Developing a product takes time. The only way to do it is to experiment. Build a prototype or a sample and show it around. Let people kick the tires, touch it, feel it. Let them get a taste of the product. Get their feedback and incorporate it into the next prototype you build. Do it fast.” Sounds like something a Lean Startup practitioner would advocate, doesn’t it? But, you see, I got this from someone who worked in manufacturing all his life and never heard the term “Lean Startup”.

He went on to say, “You’ve got to listen to the people doing the work. They do this day in and day out. If you want improvement ideas, listen to them. Solve their pain points and see productivity increase.” Sounds like agile thinking, right? With the right attitude, one can adapt the learnings across industries. 

The agile mindset

With more than a decade of implementing agility across both small and large organizations, I can tell you that the lean principles work in any industry in any function and can scale. You just need to adapt it to solve your pain point. You see, while there are significant differences between manufacturing and knowledge work, it pays to understand what makes processes work in the manufacturing world and adapt them to get the desired outcomes in the knowledge world.

I am suggesting that there are just two core principles you need to understand well to guide you through your agile journey.

  1. The longer work stays inside your system, the more it costs you.
  2. Frequent feedback during your work completion life-cycle improves quality and stability of deliverables.

Pause for a moment to reflect on these two statements.

The implication of this is that you need to design your processes to ensure work stays inside your system the least amount of time while incorporating frequent feedback from your customers to improve quality. Note: Customers can be both internal and external.

For example:

  1. If you are in product development, the longer it takes to release features the lower your margins would be (competition may come out with those features, opportunity cost of lost revenue, etc.)
  2. If you are managing a project or a program, other things being equal, shortening the duration means the business can benefit from the product of the project earlier.
  3. If you are in marketing or sales, reducing go-to-market times means potentially lower costs while increasing sales.
  4. For HR, reducing the recruitment process cycle time means you hire the right person faster.

… and so on and so forth.

Agile Frameworks

There’s a lot of noise out there in the community and each faction is trying to showcase its framework as the one to follow. Nothing wrong with that, except the core principles of why each of them work is getting buried in all the noise. You can’t blindly copy what worked in one company, division or a team and paste it into another and expect it to work.

I love Spotify’s agile process. It works for them. You should have seen the look on people’s faces when I talked about implementing Spotify’s tribes, chapters, guilds and squads at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. You should have also seen the look on people’s faces when I talked about implementing Kanban within a traditional siloed organization.

Differences in culture, management style, teams, people, thought process, systems, processes prevent a copy and paste. But if you learn the intent of agility, based on your culture, you can tweak the processes and build a structure to achieve the desired outcome. Then you can pick and choose from different frameworks too – Scrum, TDD, RAD, Kanban, DAD. Adapt what works for you and your culture.

So to summarize, design processes to:

  1. Minimize the time work travels inside your system
  2. Get frequent feedback on the completed work
  3. Empower teams to collaborate and make steps 1 and 2 happen

Disclaimer: I don’t believe in using agile as a noun. Agile to me is a verb and just one among the many practices an organization can use to achieve its desired business outcomes.

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