overhead view of men sitting at table working on project.
PHOTO: Alexis Monville

More than 70% of organizations have implemented some of kind of agile approach to conducting business. But the road to translate agile into success is not always crystal clear. In other words, challenges persist — even in the agile world. Some industry pundits shared their thoughts on how organizations can successfully create a culture of agile innovation.

Learn From Failure, Transform While You Perform

Andres Angelani, CEO of Cognizant Softvision, said maintaining an agile culture can be boiled down into four key tenets:

  • Fail fast, cheaply and learn as you go: It's only failure if you don't learn and take nothing away. Set objectives at the outset, and ensure the organization and stakeholders get smarter every step of the way.
  • Agile “theory” doesn't help: Any agile implementation needs to fit your needs, rather than prescribe processes or practices that don't make sense to your business. If speed, team autonomy, quality and business outcomes don't emerge, whoever is leading your agile transformation is under performing. Make sure you measure what matters to your business.
  • All about the people: acquiring, training and retaining the talent that you need to achieve the outcomes your business needs to thrive requires that you put effort in building community.
  • Transform while you perform: Business doesn’t stop. Today’s environment demands that we digitally transform today while we continue to perform.

Encourage Design Thinking in an Agile Environment

Jason Cranford Teague, UX lead at Rivet Logic, encouraged organizations to recognize that design thinking can be a big factor in an agile environment. “Design and development should not be siloed,” he said. “Development needs to be in on the design decisions to make sure the solutions can be built, and design needs to be in on the development so that the solution is built as designed.”

If design thinking is done right in an agile environment, Cranford Teague said, it’s not about “design by committee” but about allowing trained designers to guide the solution rather than dictate it. “Some of the most important design decisions cannot be made until the solution is in development,” he said.

Empower Your Employees

The only way agile development has a chance to succeed is if the culture empowers employees, said Alex Robbio, president & co-founder of Belatrix Software. “And this needs to extend throughout the organization,” he said, “including executives and those on the business-side of the organization.”

Related Article: Agile Management Driven By Digital Initiatives

Organizational Process Change Required 

When an organization goes all-in on agile, it involves changes to the entire organizational structure, including prioritizing projects and initiatives, Robbio said. You would typically start with creating so-called “scrum-of-scrums” where you have multiple scrum teams. As you continue to scale, you will likely need to bring different agile teams under your central program management office. 

“Having the processes, communication flows and tools which characterize a digital workplace will be crucial in bringing agile to the whole organization,” Robbio said. “Effective governance structures and management can only be achieved if information flows are digital. In agile, for example, can team members easily see the status of the burndown chart?”

Inspire Innovation Away From Day-to-Day

Getting your workers together for fun and learning activities can create better bonds and promote team building. Rachel Bush, marketing and communications manager at Viget, shared with us that her organization has built agile innovation into their culture through things like Pointless Weekends, a company-sponsored 48-hour hackathon once a year. They’ve also built projects like Storyboard and Baby Bookie designed to give employees a perspective on how other jobs and roles work within the organization. “It let's team members try out different roles and better understand how their colleagues work,” Bush said.

Related Article: Why Implementing an Agile Business Model Is More Evolution Than Revolution

Agile Training From the Top Down

Make sure every department head is thoroughly trained on agile so they can implement these practices from the top down and ensure the processes are continuing to be implemented, said Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing strategist at Fueled. “It's also important to train someone on agile as soon as they start so they don't go back to old processes,” Hautau said. 

“Fueled has required reading when someone is onboarded, along with methodologies that explain the way we approach projects, using agile. Every quarter be sure to do a retrospective so you can see what worked well and what needs to be improved to make sure your company is using agile most effectively.”

Related Article: Why Organizations Are Choosing an Agile Approach

Plan for Agile and Adopt Agile Practices at a Team Level

According to Robbio, individual teams need to make specific changes to how they operate; for example, adopting scrum or kanban. Businesses have a variety of different agile methodologies to choose from, and many adapt their chosen methodology for their specific needs. “At this level, having a digital workplace makes a real difference,” he said. “For example, is it easy for employees to share their computer screen at the touch of a button? Do employees have high quality microphones if they want to talk to another colleague in a different location? Does the team have the tools that help them work more efficiently together?”

Downstream Activities Need DevOps, Continuous Integration

At a basic level, DevOps involves development and production working closely together to ensure faster and more predictable software releases, Robbio said. Continuous integration, meanwhile, involves team members integrating their work at least daily, and receiving immediate, automated feedback in order to improve quality. “In both cases, the workflows and processes of a digital workplace become a core part in ensuring team members receive feedback and improves communication between teams, particularly in a DevOps environment,” Robbio said.

Related Article: Does Your Organization Really 'Get' Agile?

Deliver on Your Sprints

Hautau’s team works in "sprints" where it assigns a number of tasks that each team member has to complete within that sprint time limit (in their case it's two weeks). “We meet 2-3 times a week to ensure tasks are proactively being worked on and if there's any questions or blockers,” Hautau said. “The deliverables from the sprint should be lean but meet all requirements to make that task valuable to the team. It's been a very successful approach to getting lots of projects shipped and drawing more leads to our business.” 

Cash Management is Paramount

Don’t forget the importance of revenue — and managing it. Ray Zinn, former longtime CEO at now-acquired Micrel Semiconductors, said one of the key practices that fosters agility in an organization actually lies in how you manage your cash flow. “The inherent value of frugality to an entrepreneur is flexibility and agility,” Zinn said. “Nothing hamstrings an entrepreneur and his/her organization more than lacking the cash necessary to implement the vision and accomplish the mission so always focus on making cash king. Wasting cash on anything that doesn’t drive the organization forward will hamper agility.”