I have a dislike for the word ‘transition’ when used in the context of describing the challenge of adapting organisational thinking, practice and output to be more aligned with the new networked, digital environment.
It suggests that there is a beginning, middle and end to the process of change that many organisations are undertaking right now. The reality, of course, is very different.
The requirement for businesses that play in the many markets that are being disrupted by new digital platforms and models is not just to innovate, but to continuously innovate. To adopt an approach to that is, I’d suggest, very different from that which is practiced in most organisations. Agile innovation.
This was the context by which I framed the recent Econsultancy Future Trends Innovation briefing I delivered in a mini roadshow over the past couple of weeks. The full presentation is free to view for all those with silver membership or above, and there is a SlideShare preview at the foot of this post.
As an introduction to the topic, here are six ways in which you can bring agile thinking and innovation to your company:
1. Create spaces where ideas can collide
In ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’, Steven Johnson talks about the myth of the lone creative genius and how ideas often take a long time to mature, laying dormant in the form of partial hunches for years, and how it is the collision of these half-ideas that enables breakthroughs to occur.
So the great driver of innovation has been the historic increase in connectivity between us that creates infinitely more possibilities for these collisions to happen. Agile enterprises that recognise this create spaces (physical and virtual) where ideas can mingle. They don’t silo innovation into creative teams or departments.
2. Flows, as well as stocks, of knowledge
McKinsey recently conducted a study that showed the benefits for companies which are adept at using the web and social technologies to network employees to each other and to suppliers and customers.
These companies are more likely than those which are using the web in more limited ways to be market leaders or to be gaining market share or using management practices that lead to higher margins.
Employers who recognise the value of their employees being connected to the interesting people and ideas inside and outside of their industry will benefit by bringing new thinking into the organisation and allowing for innovation to happen at the edges.
It’s what the Deloitte Centre For The Edge call ‘Porous Enterprise’: the idea that companies should be less reliant on their ‘stocks’ of knowledge, and more concerned with the flow of knowledge within and into their organisation, and seeing relationships as assets
3. Focus on interaction, not processes
Interaction is motivating, rigid process is not. Empowerment and collaboration are liberating, hierarchy is not.
Agile enterprises value responsiveness to rapidly changing environments and customer needs and so empower front-line staff, promote low-friction collaboration that breaks down organisational barriers, circumvents slow, cumbersome hierarchical decision and allows for flexible and adaptive processes.
Rather than optimise efficiencies in departmental silos, they encourage achievement of business objectives through motivated, skilled but self-organising teams.
4. Outputs, not inputs
Inputs such as productivity, documentation and meetings are often valued highly in corporate ritual. Agile processes focus more on measuring working outputs, outlining a vision that gives strong direction to the project but capturing the minimum requirements in order to get started.
This allows for responsiveness and adaptation along the way and means that valuable time is not spent on elements which don’t form part of the finished product.
5. Release early and often
Traditional processes spend a lot of time designing and crafting a perfect product or plan, and then executing that plan. The first time the customer is involved is when they see the finished product at the end of that lengthy process often months, sometimes years, later.
By then their needs have probably changed. Or at the very least the market and what your competition is doing certainly has.
Agile techniques value customer involvement and feedback as part of the process, working in shorter sprints, shipping product at the end of each sprint to gain learning and customer feedback which is then reapplied into the next stage of the process. This ensures that the product is at all times kept close to the needs of the customer. Which makes for a better product.
6. Iterate, iterate, iterate
The urge for most businesses is to plan ahead, and wait for clarity and completeness before making decisions. Once crafted, the cost of changing a plan in terms of process and management time is high, and so a plan is rarely changed.
Digital models are characterised by experimentation, beta, and rapid prototyping. A test and learn approach that allows you to light lots of fires and scale what works. An approach that is inherently adaptive and allows for incremental fulfilment that minimises risk, and keeps better control on costs.
Agile processes such as these have originated and are inherent to many of the digital models and businesses that are mentioned in the presentation. But it’s important to realise that this kind of thinking has benefits for many organisations, regardless of company size or industry sector.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the future, but also a lot of reasons to think carefully about the way in which your business is preparing itself to play it’s part in that future.