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Agile races beyond software development

In an age of rapid technological change, developing business agility can be crucial to survival. No longer relegated to the IT department, the agile methodology makes it possible, and is infiltrating all areas of business and reshaping the old processes that held businesses back.

In HC Online, management consultant Penelope Cottrill said, “We know that agile businesses are ones that respond faster and more confidently to changing market conditions. We also know that ‘distributed leadership’ and workforce empowerment foster greater business agility.” As IT leaders transition their own teams to more agile methods of thought and collaboration, they’re likely to also play a key role in guiding new ways of working with other departments.

Here’s how real IT leaders are teaching their coworkers to become more agile, while adapting to agile themselves.

Agile business: Real phenomenon or buzzword-y lip service?

Agile has experienced an explosion of popularity over the past 15 years in IT organizations. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that less than one percent of IT departments were aware of agile in 2000, but between 60 and 80 percent of software development teams are using it today. Another report reveals a disconnect between IT departments’ use of agile and agile’s presence in the business culture. According to a 2016 survey by Changepoint, project managers blame multiple, disconnected systems for lack of business agility, and just 10 percent of project management offices (PMO) feel they have enough business agility to alter course when needed.

Innovation is no longer an IT problem. It’s become a business problem. ForbesGreg Satell says it’s crucial to create a new breed of innovative organization in which agile collaboration is a core value. “Over the past generation,” Satell says, “innovation has mostly been an engineering problem.” This concept is going to require better technologies for team communication, but it’s also likely to represent a shift in mindset.

Key concepts of the agile methodology that IT pros should work to spread beyond their departments include:

Obliterating silos

Agile represented the first major step toward implementing “cross-functional teams,” or core groups of individuals from different backgrounds who work closely toward an end goal. Regardless of whether you’re hacking away at a new piece of software or your company’s sustainability issues, these cross-functional teams could be a key tool for the future.

Harvard Business Review reports that 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional, and that avoiding dysfunction in cross-functional working arrangements requires strong governance. This means that strong project metrics or a highly engaged project champion could be key to success. Constantly reevaluate every project and kill your darlings when necessary to make sure silos break down and stay that way.

Creating a mob mentality

One of the key features of agile is the idea of “mobbing.” Known as “swarming,” mobbing is the method of tossing tough problems into a crowd and waiting for your group to internally crowdsource a solution. Agile blogger Ben Linders notes that high performance teams are more likely to use similarly collaborative methods of solving problems. “The idea is that you get all the developers to work (swarm) on a single story, instead of having each developer working on a separate story,” he quotes Oleksi Derkatch. “The goal is to get more stories fully completed. It’s better to have 80 percent of the features 100 percent done, instead of having 100 percent of the features 80 percent done.”

Business analyst Patrick Verdonk explains why enterprises should adopt the culture of swarming. “Big companies have to be more like startups, though startups are not small versions of big companies,” he explains. “That would lead to an observation that big companies should be ambidextrous: Taking care of current business (exploitation), while searching for the next big thing in a startup-like process (exploration).” With the help of a self-organizing culture and collaboration tools like enterprise social media, your organization can work across functions to find solutions.

Empowering your people

In agile, people always trump organizational charts. By empowering your IT teams and business associates to spread the word of agile throughout your company, leadership can significantly improve their chances of success. Forbes‘ Daniel Newman notes that empowered employees are not only more accountable, but also more invested in project outcomes and the customer experience. “Teams work autonomously, and cross-functional groups hammer out their own goals and milestones,” he says. “Knowing your decisions directly contribute to the organization’s direction is a powerful motivator.”

As your IT department works to increase its adoption of agile, IT leaders will be asked to take a central role in building flexibility into their company culture. While tools and platforms for communication and reporting are crucial, they’re not the only thing needed to succeed. By working to empower teams to collaborate and independently crowdsource solutions, the whole business can work more seamlessly.