It’s unsurprising that ‘agile’ was born in computing. This set of management practices were defined by a group of software developers who penned the Manifesto for Software Development in 2001. This document, which still exists online in its original form (with the dated graphic design to boot), laid the foundation for a set of practices that have transformed business operations. From agile management to agile onboarding, every aspect of corporate culture has the potential to benefit from the agile philosophy.
Agile’s evolution from niche tech concept to global business movement was largely driven by the truism that a digital-driven market is turbulent. As technological development rapidly dishes out new and unexpected disruptors, increasingly transferring power from companies to customers, businesses need to be able to handle continuous change. The only solution is to build resilience, streamline, and expect the unexpected. For all intents and purposes, agile is a coping strategy – it allows businesses to flourish in an environment that’s volatile, complicated, and ambiguous.
Naturally, traditional top-down, micro-managerial strategies are the antithesis of agile. To make agile an integrated part of company culture, management needs to embrace the autonomous, lean characteristics of agile. Below, we break down agile management, highlighting how businesses can move from ‘doing agile’ to ‘being agile’.
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Cut waste, be agile
Agile is about streamlining. This means identifying waste within an organisation and finding ways to reduce, or better yet, eliminate the bottleneck. As such, this will optimise the value-chain across sections. This is the over-arching purpose of agile – to maximise efficiency at every level to enhance quality, bolster organisational resilience and ultimately, pass these benefits on to the customer.
Naturally, management plays an integral role in implementing these ideas. However, to be truly agile, leadership needs to do much more than pay lip service to agile practices. Unfortunately, a two or three day Kanban or Scrum workshop isn’t going to make the grade. Certainly, these techniques will promote better visibility and communication, but to be truly agile, leadership needs to make sure agile principles are embedded into the subconscious of their team.
Therefore, management needs to nurture continuous learning: which is what distinguishes ‘being agile’ from merely ‘doing agile.’ By promoting greater staff engagement, developing skills, encouraging teamwork and – perhaps most importantly – granting autonomy, managers can substantially streamline their team and cut waste at every stage. We’ll elaborate on this wager in the next section.
Building trust and encouraging autonomy
Agile managers aren’t your traditional project managers; to be truly agile, command-control management styles should be left at the door. Instead, agile management seeks to nurture autonomy. Consider the foundations of agile principles; nothing should be unwieldy, bureaucratic or inflexible, which (let’s face it) are the nature of many traditional corporate management cultures. Instead, operations should be streamlined, adaptable and swift. As such, a team should be self-organised, self-motivated and proactive – effectively, self-managed.
Command cultures are the sworn enemy of self-organisation, which are at the core of the value proposition that agile brings. Instead of dishing out orders or micro-managing, leaders should exercise influence. They should enable people to grow, develop, and make their own decisions, which is the essence of continuous learning. Through delegating decision-making, managers can enable the team to eliminate the obstacles towards progress and focus on long-term challenges. The result is a more productive team and a more productive manager, as neither are hindered by a rigid relationship of command.
That said, granting autonomy requires trust. However, with a culture of continuous learning in place, more motivated, engaged staff are far less likely to require micro-managing. Certainly, you have to be prepared to accept failures – but ultimately, in today’s market, if your processes aren’t rapid and adaptable, then you’ve effectively failed already.
Agile management as an agile role
To fully embrace ‘being agile’, an agile manager needs to be more than a project manager 2.0. Instead, they should advocate for agile principles across the organisation. Subsequently, an agile manager should be as agile as their role. They should have the ability to work across functions, making important contributions to product directions, staffing decisions and professional development programmes. By championing agile, these individuals can nurture a total environment of continuous learning. Here promising, curious individuals are hired to work on innovative projects in a workplace where they’re empowered and valued.
Nurture agile from the top down
Sure enough, top-down styles of management are the opposite of agile. However, the responsibility to encourage the adoption of agile practices lies with leadership. As such, agile principles should come from the top-down, through the seemingly paradoxical approach of granting staff greater autonomy. By creating a nurturing environment of continuous learning, agile management can create a staff team that’s more reliable, engaged and innovative. By letting go of total control and delegating, leadership can facilitate the drive towards truly ‘being agile’.