Agile is the buzzword of the year. So what? What does it mean for strategy development and projects?
Agile working methods are miraculous things. They quickly reveal whether we are working on real problems or home-made fake challenges. From the wealth of available topics, agile methods help us identify the right ones. In an era of increasingly volatile markets, services and skill sets, agile methods put us on a solid footing. Moreover, agile strategy development achieves genuine customer orientation from day one – something that’s been promised for decades under the slogan “customer is king”, but never really delivered.
Agile means shifting from “for the customer” to “with the customer”. Not only does this save us time, money and valuable mental bandwidth, it makes us fundamentally better and more flexible in our work.
But to do strategic work, you have to face an uncomfortable truth: it’s very difficult to let go of the familiar structures and open yourself completely to new ways of working and thinking. You have to abandon your long-term strategies and any remaining bastions of predictability. When you do, strategy development becomes open-ended. But let’s be clear: agility has nothing in common with indecisiveness. Rather, agility means having the courage to constantly adjust the path to your goal.
As we see it, to develop a genuinely agile strategy, you have to master four phenomena: Iteration, Scoping, Co-Creation und Prototyping.
We must learn to move forward in small, iterative steps. Instead of sticking rigidly to a course of action, we must focus on the goal. It’s about talking to the right people at the right time, inching closer to the truth as we go. To work this way requires a much greater investment in planning and coordination. And we must have the courage to pull the plug on projects that show little prospect of success. By accepting early on that something isn’t working, we free up our resources for more important projects. Iteration helps us do the right things and to do them well. This fundamental phenomenon plays an important role in all phases of agile strategy development.
It’s high time … but for what, I’m not quite sure. Projects come thick and fast these days, and their goals are often vague and diffuse. The purpose of Scoping is to scrutinise our tasks constructively – to define the problem and goals by name, and to cultivate a precise understanding of the task at hand. Scoping allows us to paint a common picture of our challenges and how we intend to solve them. Skip this step, and your project won’t necessarily fall apart. But it will certainly take longer to complete, squandering precious time and energy and thus money.
No-one will solve the problems of the future alone. Co-Creation delivers better products and better solutions. Because it integrates potential customers, technology partners and other powerful influencers deeply and consistently into the development process. It’s about creating something together from the very first second. To succeed at Co-Creation, we must be open to constructive criticism, as well as good solutions that already exist outside our own business.
The purpose of Prototyping is to quickly and reliably get a feel for a product's quality and resilience. And to deliver tangible results in the shortest time possible. This applies to every new development, whether it’s a physical product or a service. Anything can be prototyped. But be warned: prototyping is not a beauty contest. It’s about function, substance and captivating your audience.
As comprehensive and universal as these four phenomena may be, in practice, strategy development is highly diverse. Agility is not a cover-up for indecisive managers and chaotic projects. Quite the opposite, in fact. Due to their speed, complexity and openness, agile projects require an especially systematic and serious approach.
In practice, these tools and methods rarely exist in their pure forms. With confidence and curiosity, innovative businesses will experiment, combine and adapt a vast range of different approaches, finding their way to agility one step at a time. At the diffferent Open House 2016 in Berlin, we discussed this subject with experts such as Barbara Heitger (Heitger Consulting), Anatol Scholz (DB Regio), Reza Moussavian (Deutsche Telekom), Sören Ziems (Magic Internet), Felix Berghöfer (Zalando) und Julia von Winterfeldt (SOULWORX). We talked about how “agile” can become more than a pretty buzzword and create a genuine mindshift within an organisation.
“Doing is like wanting, only cooler” (Sören Ziems). At the Munich Open House, we took Sören’s wisdom to heart. We had a crack at three different challenges from three real clients. Within a few hours, we were developing agile strategies in fine form – from Scoping all the way to the finished prototype.
“Agile” is not a tool; it’s a mindset to be internalised. To render an entire organisation agile is hard work. And it’s okay to make mistakes. Indeed, mistakes are the best path to excellence.