Want to Become Agile? Fill Your Company With Entrepreneurs You should give autonomy to employees who take risks, identify and pursue opportunities outside of their main sphere of work

By Mark McGregor

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At this point, talking about being "agile" is like telling small businesses to start a website. It's just assumed knowledge that lags behind the real debate: how do you actually create the structures to make this happen?

For one thing, you need to hire entrepreneurs. (More on that in a minute.)

You can't just introduce a piece of software, a new hire, or a single policy and expect success. Or think that stand-up meetings and two-week sprints will automatically lead to better decisions.

It's easy to see how this gets out of hand.

Let's say you hire a new department head who puts an emphasis on quick decision-making, because you want to make sure that good ideas get to market quickly. This is arguably "agile".

But, the new hire ignores any sort of operational context, favouring conversations with designers and engineers who are told to make rapid prototypes.

Without any documentation—especially that of the business processes affected—feedback gets missed. Stakeholders are ignored. Now you have a nice-looking prototype built in a few days that doesn't have any business needs included. And, it never sees the light of day because the team spends weeks building integrations and touch points that should have been thought about in the first place.

In a situation like this—which is, unfortunately, typical—process wouldn't get in the way. Instead, it would empower agility by removing distractions and roadblocks.

How can you do this?

Start With a Strong Culture of Employee Freedom

The McKinsey research into successful agile organizations is clear: people-focussed processes succeed. In practical terms, it means you should give autonomy to employees who take risks, identify and pursue opportunities outside of their main sphere of work, and use skills that aren't part of their job description.

Allow these resources to switch roles and attach themselves to new teams.

Sounds a lot like entrepreneurs, doesn't it? It's hard to take entrepreneurs and put them in an enterprise context. However, you should look for employees who have run their own businesses before, or who demonstrate entrepreneurial focus with a side business.

Move Fast and Trust in your People

Too often, agile organisations can promote everyone to the level of decision-maker, because so much is dependent on group input. This can be crippling when it stops progress.

Make sure you identify decision makers; then give them the authority to move forward when they don't have 100 per cent certainty that a project will work. The faster they prototype and test an idea, the quicker they'll find out where the weaknesses are.

Don't Live on an Island - Processes Are Your Friend

Without connecting the dots, you might make faster decisions, but they'll often be the wrong ones. Ensure you understand your end-to-end process journeys, be aware of the operational context of every decision, and capture the processes you are changing in a central repository.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it'll pay off when future projects can learn from older mistakes and build on previous changes. Process documentation shouldn't be on paper. The most efficient businesses know that providing information in the quickest way possible means completely digitizing everything. This will make it easily searchable, retrievable, and accessible – and makes processes more straightforward to understand, change and implement. This is highly beneficial for employee productivity and customer experience alike.

Train Employees in your New Processes

Our own research found 28.4% of respondents feel improper training is the reason behind process failure. Without buy-in, you don't have success. This is what it means by taking a more comprehensive view of what it means to be "agile". It isn't just a set of tools or a way of working. It's an understanding of how people engage and buy in to those processes.

If they don't understand them, you won't see the results – no matter how many sprints you have.

Mark McGregor

Head of Strategy, Signavio


Mark is a former industry analyst at Gartner, as well as a popular speaker and published author. He is regarded as a leader in this space when it comes to how people do and perceive business. He's currently working as Head of Strategy at BPM giant Signavio.

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