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Agile: The new waterfall. Should you still jump on the bandwagon?

Baoxuan Tan
Baoxuan Tan

April 12, 2022

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Agile has been the buzzword for many years now. Organisations used it as an iterative approach to developing products through incremental improvements, ultimately delivering value to customers at a faster pace. These days, many businesses have extended the approach to other teams such as Human Resources teams and Finance to optimise processes and boost efficiency.

However, we must note that while Agile is flexible and adaptive to changes, it is not a one-off process you complete and reap revolutionary results. Agile is a disciplined approach to project management that demands proper project planning during each run. It changes the way you view and do things, host meetings, and manage projects. 

That’s why Agile is not just a mechanism, instead, it is a cultural change. Done correctly, organisations get to reap many benefits including early returns on investment with a faster time to market and higher customer satisfaction levels.

Created in the 1990s, Agile only gained popularity in the early 2000s. In 2020, as much as 71% of companies have already adopted it according to a Standish Group Chaos Study in 2020. Initially, the Agile methodology was commonly observed in smaller companies where teams are lean and it is easier to create a culture of innovation. Over the decades, we see many large organisations also adopting this approach, especially tech companies or IT development teams. 

While we adopt Agile with the intention to increase success rates, we must also recognize that they are also prone to failures. In this article, we share 3 tips to success.

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#1 Having a clear strategic direction

As mentioned, Agile requires proper project planning and should be aligned with the company’s strategic goal. Without a guiding North Star, any experimentation and adaptations conducted during the sprint will be wasted. Imagine Agile iterations as small steps to improve processes, products, or services, all contributing to an overarching goal. Only by doing so can the company reap benefits in the longer term and achieve sustainable growth.

If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because you have heard the same thing when it comes to digital transformation. Ultimately, the Agile and digitalisation approaches are tools to achieve your goals, so you need to figure out your goals first! Read more about digital transformation in our article here.

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#2 Gathering management support

After deciding your strategic goals, it is critical to obtain management buy-in, especially from mid-level managers who are closer to the ground, and able to directly influence ground level employees. Your leaders need to start  empowering employees and trusting them to work collaboratively and autonomously within the team. By doing so, team members will be able to freely suggest, and bounce ideas off one another. Without a supportive leader, good intentions and ideas can reach dead-ends, leading to the project’s failure.

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

#3 Creating a safe environment for employees

Having clear strategic goals and supportive leaders are insufficient. Employees also need to feel safe and be comfortable enough with change and feedback, so they can freely suggest and bounce ideas off one another. This way, they will dare to explore, experiment, and fail, which allows them to examine what worked or what did not. Ultimately, employees need to feel a sense of ownership over the decisions, results, and performance of their work. This increased level of involvement will in turn incentivise them to align their interests with the company’s, and work together towards the North Star.

One tool to help align everyone across all three areas is Objectives and Key Results (OKRs. It is a good way to let team members connect their specific work modules to the North Star, so they can track progress and iterate towards desired key results. Breaking the strategic goal into smaller parts also helps  employees see how their work contributes to the company’s longer-term growth. Learn more about OKRs in our other article here.

If you want to create an Agile culture in your organisation, remember our three tips of having an overarching goal and strategic plan followed by management commitment and eventually staff buy-in and ownership.

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