Dictionary.com defines “agility” as: 1. the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness: 2. the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly; intellectual acuity. Both definitions are necessary for organizations to have ongoing success.
As a former athlete (football and track), agility was a major aspect of my training. Speed, efficiency, the ability to read, react, and quickly change direction in an instant were all areas of focus. I spent hours daily developing and refining my skills so that when it was time to perform, I was ready.
In athletics, to train you must first set your individual goal and how you will contribute to the teams’ goal if you are playing a team sport. Playing the cornerback position in football, I not only wanted to be the best at my position but I wanted to completely take away the aspect of the offense I was responsible for, making our defense more efficient. Once the goals are set, you then must understand your arena. I always had to understand where on the field the ball was located, I had to be aware of my positioning in relationship to the wide receiver as well as my positioning in relationship to the rest of the defense. I also needed to know important information such as down, distance, and time. There are a few other things that I needed to look for and understand, but as long as I had the right alignment and understood the situation half the battle was won. The other half of the battle was reading and reacting relying on the hours I spent training for that moment.
Down, distance, and time in the game of football are always changing. Although they are always changing, they are keys that play a major role in determining the course of action a team takes. Coaches spend hours preparing their teams for games. In most cases, coaches develop various strategies for the game and the different situations that could come up. As great as a team and the developed strategy can be, at some point something will happen that no one expected. In these moments, adjustments need to be made very quickly.
Although I worked hard, the one thing that made the biggest difference on the field and brought us success was communication. A great defense isn’t all about great players and having a great strategy. A great defense communicates all the time. When everyone does their individual job, and communicates everything they are seeing as its happening, necessary adjustments can be made. Adjustments helped to increase our level of success bringing the team closer to its goal of winning the game. The starting point of all communication is the huddle before each play. In this huddle, the plan for the upcoming play is laid out (the play call) and players can share quick necessary information with the rest of the defense. As the offense breaks the huddle the defense can see what’s in front of them, communicate, and make the necessary adjustments as things develop. The last aspect of communication takes place when the team comes off the field. Players have the opportunity to tell their coach everything that is happening on the field as they see it, give insight into some of the things they have done to adjust, and from a player’s perspective what may need to be done differently the next time around so that the team will be more successful. Coaches have developed the strategy and they may see what’s happening from a distance but it can be difficult to make the needed changes without having all of the necessary information, ideally a first-hand account of what is going on.
The same level of focus and preparation are needed within the business world. For a company to be successful and sustain success, agility is necessary. To begin thinking and operating with more agility certain things must take place at both the individual and organizational levels.
Set Goals – Take Ownership
This is the first major step in agility. The goal must be set to understand the direction. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new product, a new service, or a shift in how things are currently being done. Once the goal is set, an owner should be set. This owner is someone who is accountable for the project. It should be their priority and they should also be given the authority to set additional goals, make necessary changes, allocate resources, and deliver the end product. Using my athletics background this person is primarily the coach. It is the coach’s goal to put together a winning team. All decisions and strategies are built around that. The way the team operates, the goals, and the mindset of the players are also products of the coach’s vision. Win or lose, the coach is ultimately responsible. In addition to the owner, a Scrum Master should be identified. A Scrum Master operates similarly to a Chief Operations Officer. They are responsible for the day to day and keeping the team on track. One thing to keep in mind is that the Owner and Scrum Master shouldn’t be the same person. Owners are not only responsible for the project or initiative as a whole, they are also responsible for meeting with all stakeholders and understanding the needs for the end result.
We weren’t a great team, specifically a great defense because we had the best athletes. We were a great defense because we all knew our job, how it tied into the rest of the defense, and we communicated. Traditionally organizations operate in silos. Finance doesn’t communicate much if any with marketing. Marketing doesn’t communicate much if any with IT. When all are needed for a launch of a new app that has a goal of attracting new customers communication is important. In many cases, when communication between the groups take place, it’s not always in real time or significant information isn’t adequately communicated. When this happens, the environment is reactionary instead of being proactive. If changes are made, they are past the point of truly being impactful if they make an impact at all. Another issue that comes up is that the individual that actually has the information and has experienced the positive or negative first hand isn’t always the person delivering the information to the necessary people in the meetings.
Ensuring that there are open lines of communication between groups that occur in real time is the only way to truly be agile. Like the defense, individuals and teams must communicate in real time as things are happening. All information should be shared with the scrum master also in real time. Quick daily update “scrum” meetings (the football huddle before each play) are important to coordinate and inform of risks and roadblocks. In some cases, taking an extra step and creating a cross functional team composed of key members from each department is helpful to prevent information blocks.
As a defense in football we prepared for the team that we were facing that week. Within that preparation we did what we could to understand everything that our opponents would do. In addition to that we had various phases of our defense. Within those phases we disguised many of the things that we were doing to keep our opponent guessing and on their toes. As the game progressed we would roll out various packages. Each phase, each package had its own goal that we wanted to accomplish. Ultimately our goal was to win. If it was our day, we won. There were games that things didn’t go as well as we hoped and we still managed to win. There were also games where we did everything we could but we lost. Regardless of the outcome, the process was the same. We made sure we did everything we could to put ourselves in the best position to win.
In the business world, there must be a shift in how project completion is seen. In an agile environment testing, learning, and adjusting are constants. The traditional route in taking the time to ensure everything is perfect before completion or delivery is time consuming and doesn’t allow any room for flexibility. Especially in the case of potential changes in strategy, technology, etc. The owner has the primary perspective of understanding exactly what is needed. This perspective should be used to understand and set the first level delivery. Using the app example, the owner knows what the minimum need is for the app to function, make an impact, and what the ideal fully developed app should contain. Rather than work on the app until fully completed. The app is developed to the minimum need and released at that point. Once the app is released, the information share, testing, and development will continue in phases until the fully built app is completed. Operating and delivering in phases allows for quick delivery, for issues to resolved quickly, and flexibility to adjust based on a new strategy or something that was discovered during the phase that wasn’t seen or expected prior to the project starting. Phased delivery and adjustments are necessary in order for the team and the project to be in the best position to win/be successful.
The great thing about agility is that its universal. Every organization, team, and employee can use these concepts. Being more efficient is one of the best ways to be more productive. In order for agility and efficiency to truly take place, the concept should be expanded across the organization and woven into the culture. According to a survey Mckinsey & Company performed, 71 percent of high-growth companies adopted an agile process. This is done by executing and ensuring the agile ideology becomes a part of daily operations.