So, this morning I read that Virgin Atlantic has just cut 500 jobs to “be a more efficient and agile organisation”. Up until relatively recently I would have associated being agile with someone fleet of foot rather than in any business context.
So what is an agile organisation and why should you care?
Well, first things first, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say it’s undeniable, we now live and work in the age of the customer. We are all customers in our daily lives, and just like our business customers we want more, cheaper … we want it NOW … and what we want changes all the time!
We are in a more connected, disruptive and increasingly competitive marketplace than ever before. So get it right for the customer and you will be rewarded for it. With happier customers – and staff for that matter – positive reviews, more business referrals and a successful company. Get it wrong and you’re likely to push your customer out the door, after they’ve bashed you on Twitter.
And that is why the only way you can run your business is in an agile way – cross-functionally, not departmentally, on unified projects for the good of the customer. No longer can you set out business plans – or annual plans for that matter – and have a hope of sticking rigidly to them. Why? Because things change and you need to change with them … quickly.
It is only in the last year that we have really started to embrace an agile approach at Axonn. We plan it, do it, review it and then plan again. The shorter the cycle between each review the better. Depending on the team, we generally do this in weekly or bi-monthly cycles. With business today it is not the strongest or biggest who will ultimately be successful, as strength or size may not be what gives them a competitive advantage in the future. The businesses with the real competitive advantage will be those who are most adaptable.
What is Agile?
Agile has allowed us to combine our teams’ skills and efforts by encouraging them to collaborate across teams with everyone’s entire efforts focused on the same goal. Instead of traditional methods which, let’s face it, can involve a lot of talking and not a lot of doing, an agile approach can tackle big projects in a fraction of the usual time.
Every one of us is busy trying to do ten different things at once, with the average desk job employee losing over two hours per day to distractions or disruptions. By dedicating a team to focus on one specific project, putting everything else they have to do to one side, the project magically takes less time and has a better outcome. This is about breaking departmental silos and working together effectively for a common goal, such as combining sales with marketing (smarketing) or client relations with production, in our case.
But an agile approach will not work by simply arranging a cross-department meeting. It’s about having the right people on your teams, and this starts with your hiring process.
You need to be looking for “T-shaped people”. These are people who like change, but – crucially – have a specialism while also knowing a little bit about a lot of things. For example, sales people ten years ago could get away with simply having expertise in sales and “closing the deal”. Today the best sales people need to understand relationships, analytics, account management and product development to maximise their potential.
The same can be said of any role, so here at Axonn our content writers, who historically just needed to write, are now involved in every stage of the content development process. We now test for “T-shaped-ness” in our hiring process, instead of the traditional “I-shaped” people.
There is no perfect way of doing agile. The best thing you can do is just begin tomorrow, make some mistakes, learn quickly from them and get busy maximising your organisation’s potential. If you think it is too good to be true, read our agile diary to see how we got started.