You probably know what happened to Blockbuster, right?
As the dominant movie rental service in the 90s and early 2000’s, Blockbuster was the market leader, seemingly indefatigable. Until the great disruptor, Netflix, hit the scene. By 2010, Blockbuster had filed for bankruptcy and that was pretty much the end of that.
Why is this relevant here?
Blockbuster, like many business giants (think AOL, Atari, and Kodak), disappeared from our lives because they failed to adapt to market and technology forces.
Don’t doubt for a minute that constant change is an unstoppable process, deliberately, or by force of nature, it will continue to come upon you. If you’re a Hilton and you don’t adapt, Airbnb will eat you up. Just like Netflix crushed Blockbuster.
But adaptation is hard, especially in larger, established enterprises. Businesses get comfortable with a way of doing things and develop workflows, processes, hierarchies, and even job descriptions around classical ways of thinking about project management, product development, and even sales and marketing.
Most of these practices hinge on inflexible and often dictatorial approaches. Leadership dictates what staff should do, business actions are conducted in siloes, employees are rarely empowered and lack accountability or ownership. The result is that the “doers” in an organization adhere to their job descriptions, do what they are required to do, then hand it off to the next person. Total transparency, frequent communication, and input from all stakeholders are erratic, undisciplined, and sometimes simply lacking. In this model, errors are realized too late, collaboration is absent, and the end-product doesn’t align with business needs. It’s often all about short-term gains over long-term success. The latter is especially true for public companies.
Businesses can’t afford to work that way anymore. But how do you adapt? Is there a way to transform your management style, procedures, and workflows to keep pace with change, meet client demands, and beat the competition? There is. But it requires an “Agile Manifesto”.
What Is Agile and How Can It Help Your Business?
Agile is a term used in the IT world that describes a process of software development that stresses cross-functional collaboration over siloes, adaptive planning, early delivery, and continuous improvement. At its heart, Agile is still a relatively new way of managing projects. It requires a change in corporate culture that blurs the lines between departments and roles.
That’s fine for IT, but what could this mean for the wider business? Well, an Agile approach to non-IT projects and workflows can break down company barriers and produce faster, more relevant results.
How does it do this?
To answer this question, let’s step into the software development world for a moment. Agile software development methodology flips the traditional approach to product development on its head. Instead of lengthy up-front planning and design, Agile breaks work into small increments and short timeframes. During this period team members come together to report on what they did the previous day towards their iteration goal; what they’ll do today; and any impediments that may be in the way to that daily goal.
Feedback and collaboration is key and encouraged. Team members are empowered to make suggestions about how things can be done differently and prioritize tasks more efficiently. Through constant adaptation and improvement, Agile teams can more quickly respond to changing needs, address problems as quickly as they arise, and iterate towards a higher quality product – giving customers (internal or external) what they really need, not just what they think they wanted at the start of the project.
How to Embrace an Agile Manifesto Outside IT
These very same principles of Agile software development can be applied beyond IT. Whether it’s a marketing campaign, sales cycle, or hiring process, if you think of your goal as a product and your stakeholders (managers, leaders, etc.) as customers, Agile can be applied to any business process.
Consider the inefficiencies of the sales process. From a management perspective, there are many sales pipelines to manage, customers come and go, and failure rates are high. Meanwhile, vertically-aligned sales reps work diligently on their own pipeline and only report successes and failures during regular checkups. Why is this a problem? Because it excludes them access to the wider knowledge base of the organization – from the power of someone else’s network, influence, or connections. It’s that old silo problem again.
How can an Agile workflow help the sales process? Here at EastBanc Technologies, we use Scrum, a subset of Agile, as a project management tool and have also extended it successfully into our sales cycle.
Our Agile manifesto for sales centers on four key values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Closing deals over endless strategizing, reporting, and justifications, etc.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiations.
- Responding to change over following a rigid plan.
Agile + Sales = A Win, Win
In practice, an Agile methodology applied to the sales cycle could look something like this:
Consider a scenario where a sales executive is working a deal to sell five software licenses to Hilton (let’s call the deal his “product”). Working iteratively, she identifies her first goal or Minimal Viable Product (MVP) – to identify 10 contacts inside Hilton and sell one license. Applying the Agile methodology, she divides this goal into five iterations or (to use the proper Agile terminology) “Sprints” over the course of five weeks.
But she doesn’t do this in a silo. Agile is defined as the meeting of cross-functional teams, where everyone helps shape the first goal and works towards it. She doesn’t “sprint” alone, instead she meets on a regular basis (daily and weekly check-ins) to discuss progress, next steps, and impediments.
During these sprints, it may emerge that Hilton is not the best target. Why? During a meeting of the Scrum team, it transpired that a department head has a relationship with someone at Marriott that could lead to an introduction to a decision-maker and make the competing hotel chain a better target.
Could this have been achieved outside an Agile methodology? Possibly. This is just one example of how Agile can help align teams around success. But the point is that the possibilities for shared insights, actions, and collaboration are limitless. Through constant iteration and adaptation, the product or deal is refined and a successful outcome is brought closer to bear.
A Two-Step Plan to Adapt Agile Across your Business
Of course, business transformation isn’t easy. Change can send chills down the spine of even the most forward thinking leaders. It takes careful planning and willingness, which, of course, starts at the top.
As with all big changes, make a pledge to roll-out your Agile manifesto incrementally. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Shoot for quick, achievable goals. Once results start coming in, the rewards will speak for themselves and adoption will follow.
Here’s a simple plan you can implement:
Step One: Define Weekly Sprints. Hold a weekly Sprint Planning Meeting for planning and retrospective purposes for each goal (end-product). Think of this as an opportunity to define the incremental tasks to be executed that week.
Be careful to only select as many tasks as can be completed during the sprint and build plans and strategies needed to deliver the end-product (whether it’s a sale, a new business partnership, etc.).
The team in this meeting should include cross-functional stakeholders – the sales owner (VP of Sales), sales team, your management team, and the Scrum Master (CEO or equivalent whose role is to remove hurdles). Together the Scrum must assess if the goal is too ambitious, if anything needs to be pushed back, and adjust goals as needed.
Each week everyone on the team should commit to at least one action that can help the business achieve its first goal under the newly adopted Agile methodology.
Each sprint will reveal something new that will inform the next sprint. Rinse, and repeat this step each week.
Step Two: Hold a Daily Scrum Meeting. This is a brief daily status meeting (15 minutes) in which team members synchronize their work and progress and report impediments to the Scrum Master. Set a recurring time for the meeting (9:00 AM in the same conference room) and make attendance mandatory.
Each team member should respond to three questions only:
- What have you done since the last Daily Scrum regarding this customer?
- What will you do between now and the next Daily Scrum meeting regarding this customer?
- What impedes you from performing your work as effectively as possible?
The meeting should not digress beyond the answers to these three questions into issues, hierarchies, discussions of problems, etc. The Scrum Master is responsible for moving the reporting along briskly from person to person.
During the daily Sales Scrum, limit the floor to one person at a time so they can report his or her status. Everyone else listens; there are no side conversations.
When a team member reports something that is of interest to other members or requires assistance, any team member can immediately arrange for all interested parties to get together after the Daily Scrum to set up a meeting.
Adapt or Fail
This is Agile simplified. But it’s an iterative process that works. Through the process, you’ll agree on a realistic goal, the measures it takes to achieve it, you may even tweak the goal as new information emerges. This doesn’t always mean you’ll reach your goal faster, but you will correct mistakes earlier, adjust as you go, and realize a more sophisticated and successful end-product.
In its roots, Agile is about transparency. By engaging cross-functional stakeholders throughout the process, expectations can be set and teams become more invested in outcomes. But it’s more than that, because everyone is involved, from the leadership team to a sales rep, a feeling of being a part of something concrete and meaningful takes root:
- Teams have access to information and influencers they didn’t have before and feel that their opinions are valued. This is a big deal for today’s employees, particularly Millennials, who don’t want to be just another cog in the wheel making money for shareholders like their parents did.
- Employees have an opportunity to take ownership and accountability of aspects of a project that they may not have touched in the past.
- Stakeholders can better see and measure progress, without micro-managing or being overbearing.
For the wider organization, the transformation is palpable. Because Agile depends on tight collaboration across cross-functional teams, knowledge share is optimized and a greater common understanding is achieved.
And, of course, the business gets what it needs, not what it wants. Only through an Agile process do real customer needs come to the surface through a process of continuous iteration and collaboration. Stick to the old way of doing things – accountability with no authority, a lack of transparency across teams, etc. – and you’re missing an opportunity to leverage internal knowledge and autonomy for the greater good.
Agile or Bust
We’re in an age of Digital Darwinism. Technology and the way we work, live and play is changing so fast that businesses are struggling to adapt. Agile is one way of doing so. No matter the size of your business, Agile is a proven investment that can help you adapt to today’s changing business landscape, rather than react or be disrupted by it. Think Netflix, not Blockbuster.
Questions or comments? Contact us here to continue the conversation.