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Why is everybody talking about agile methodologies?

22-01-2018 | Redacción CEU

Renew or die! It is the rumble that resonates constantly in the head of many managers. Changes are coming and this is an ideal time to make decisions, consider new options and, even, reinvent yourself if necessary. Many companies adopted agile methodologies in their organizations for years, especially the emerging companies with a technology character, but now that the changes occur at a greater pace and in a greater number of sectors, this alternative model becomes stronger. What is the agile philosophy? What does this work  model imply? Can any business be transformed into agile?

 

When a theater company steps onto a new stage, even though they have interpreted a play a thousand times, they have to stop and think how actors can execute and interpret this representation in a natural way in this strange space. Reacting to changes, it is necessary to devise new strategies to achieve success. Many firms, as if they were itinerant theater companies, constantly face new areas to explore. They should be prepared to learn how to use new tools, face new situations and solve new problems in short times. How to manage to address this changeable reality without failure?

Agility is a work methodology that aims to turn the situation around and get the best possible performance in changing work environments that generate uncertainty. More than a system, it is a philosophy based on adaptation and the attempt of continuous improvement. Among the companies that have used it there are large firms like Google, Amazon, Spotify or Facebook. Actually, it is not a new methodology. Although the changes experienced by some sectors in the framework of digital transformation are new, for this reason, many companies have gotten onboard –into the car of the itinerant company– and are now betting on it.

What is the agile method?

Encouraged by Ken Beck, an American software engineer and creator of the extreme programming, seventeen critical software developers of the rigid and traditional models decided to meet in Salt Lake City (USA) in 2001 to discuss the work management in this specialty. Within the framework of that meeting, what we know today as the Agile Manifesto was born, although initially it was destined to be a guide document in software development, it would end up inspiring the rest. The  principles on which the manifesto is based are the following:

  • The value of  individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • The value of what works over the comprehensive documentation
  • The value of customer collaboration over the contract negotiation
  • The value of responding to the change over following a plan
Why is everybody talking about agile methodologies?

As time goes by, this agile model was extrapolated to other labor sectors and soon became a real alternative to a more traditional work model. One of the principles that make this method so attractive, especially in the eyes of Human Resources, is that it applies methodologies that push the human factor within companies and, therefore, pays special attention on the talent in them. On the other hand, it also encourages team work and, although it does not relinquish discipline in processes, it focuses more on the final quality of work.

In the organizations that apply agile methodologies, workers are organized into different groups and work on specific projects with defined deadlines. In this way, for example, they expect to avoid the dispersion or the lack of motivation –problems normally associated with presenteeism–. This structure facilitates that the level of concentration and the productivity of the team members increases and that, in addition, they can directly manage the possible changes that may arise in the development of the work.

In order to being productive, the different members of the groups need to cooperate because the decisions are made together in this model. The hierarchical structure is blurred and is not as defined as in other classical models. The contributions of every person count. The interaction is, therefore, very important in this methodology, not only among the different workers and groups, but also in the relationships that are established with the customers.

Working in changing environments

According to a study carried out by the Institute for the Future of Palo Alto, 85% of the jobs that there will be in 2030 have not been invented yet. We work in a changing environment where flexibility and adaptability become essential ingredients for the performance of the daily work. One of the acronyms that are now used to refer to this new reality is VUCA, this term refers to the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of the environments. In a complete technological transformation both terms, VUCA and agile methodology, are present in the conversations of many professionals specialized in HR because these concepts complement and feed each other, they constitute a perfect binomial.

Although this model may seem ideal, it does not always fit well in all companies, departments or projects. If it is not adapted to the specific case, this methodology may fail according to experts. The agile model requires a large commitment on the part of employees and the organization itself and involves making a substantial change in the company culture that cannot be done overnight. Companies must previously work on values like synergy, collaboration and flexibility if they want to adopt this model successfully. On the other hand, they have to leave behind old habits and practices, decriminalize error, be more open and establish a structure less concerned about hierarchy and more by dynamism and interaction.

In order to be more agile within companies, they have to apply this same principle in their change proccess, gradually replacing control and authority by autonomy and responsibility. Like Winston Churchill once said:

"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often"