You may not have heard of the “Agile enterprise,” but likely you’ve heard of other management structures that are designed to foster innovation, unlock the power of small teams, and streamline bureaucracy. Such methodologies go as far back as Bell Labs and W. Edwards Deming and take a variety of forms and names such as Scrum, skunkworks, and matrix organizations. Agile first found favor in software development companies but has since been incorporated into nearly every industry, from National Public Radio (NPR) to auto manufacturers.
In their book, Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos, authors Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez of Bain & Company discuss what sets Agile techniques apart from other approaches and lay out a road map for creating Agile teams and then, if those are successful, expanding the model to create an Agile enterprise. Agile begins with small cross-functional teams of three to nine people, and the authors argue that it’s critical for team members to be devoted to the group full-time, not in addition to their day jobs. The team tackles a complex innovation project by breaking the project into modules, developing solutions to individual modules, and rapidly testing the efficacy of each solution. Think of Thomas Edison, who tested and discarded thousands of potential filaments before finding a viable candidate for creating the first light bulb.
Each Agile team constantly seeks input and feedback from internal and external stakeholders. And throughout the project, the key to progress is to fail quickly, incorporate lessons learned, and move on to the next potential solution. With proper management support, Agile teams can be formed relatively quickly, but creating an Agile enterprise is another matter; the latter takes time. The bulk of Doing Agile Right discusses the leadership behaviors, planning and budgeting, organizational structure, processes, and technology needed to create and sustain an Agile enterprise. Interspersed with real-world examples of Agile success stories are warnings about the difficulties of copying another company’s methods or moving too quickly. But the authors note that the potential rewards of implementing the Agile methodology include industry leadership, increased market share, and fulfilling careers for the brightest minds in your company. If you read this book and consider the applications to your organization, then you’ll find your mind spinning with the possibilities.