Agile working basics

As buzzwords go, ‘agile’ is probably the word of the 21st century so far. Often associated with ideas like flexible hours, hot desking or working from home, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, you could say we’re all working agile now, couldn’t you? Well, no. We’re not. Agile is about a little more than just working in different locations.

The agile concept originally came from the world of software development and arguably, that remains the sector in which it is most dominant. But if you’re not in the software business, could agile be for you?

Defining ‘agile’

To start with, as mentioned above, agile might include flexible working practices but flexible working practices alone do not constitute agile.

In principle, agile is about taking a different approach to work, challenging all aspects of work with a focus on performance and results (usually oriented towards the customer or user of a business’s products or services). The original Agile Manifesto states that individuals and interactions are more important than processes, and emphasises the importance of customer collaboration and the ability to respond to change rather than just follow a plan.

The Agile Future Forum considers agile practices from four perspectives: when, where, what, and who?

  • When is the work done? (time)
  • Where is the work done? (location)
  • What is the work to be done? (role)
  • Who does the work? (source)

To that can be added “How is the work done?”, a question that encompasses processes, tools and technology.  As you can see, agile is more of a philosophy rather than a prescribed methodology, and can be used to review and improve any aspect of work.

The hallmarks of agile working

Though the details of agile working will differ from sector to sector, business to business, the following are features of most agile workplaces:

  • Better use of space – Available space is utilized better, often allocated or designated according to function or activity rather than individual employees or teams.
  • Iterative or incremental approach – Drawing on its software development origins, an agile approach to tasks or projects tends to break down the work into discrete chunks which are worked on iteratively in short one or two-week periods of activity, at the end of which the team has produced a functioning and testable result. A significant advantage of such short bursts of activity is the capacity to quickly and easily pivot a project’s direction should circumstances or priorities change.
  • Boosts to productivity and efficiency – The flexibility of approach and increased individual autonomy within an agile, self-organising team mean that work is often more productive, with results achieved more efficiently.
  • Increased innovation – Agile is associated with increased innovation. In fact, Forbes once referred to agile as, “the world’s most popular innovation engine,” citing the potential for self-led creativity by agile teams.
  • Better employee engagement – Workers with more freedom and autonomy in their work, who have access to the tools and technology they need, and are focused on specific, very achievable (if challenging) goals, tend to demonstrate more commitment.

Adopting an agile approach in the workplace impacts on processes, technology, management style, office design, communications… the list goes on… and above all, agile working is a question of culture. Buying new tools and redesigning the workplace are potentially high-impact initiatives but they won’t make you more agile unless you have a culture of collaboration, support, and transparency.

For agile managers, it’s question of trust, delegation, and empowerment.

For more on agile working and agile management, check out our half-day overview event and talk to us about tailoring the content to your business; or give us a call on 01582 463463; we’re here to help.

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