Agile methodologies have been used since the early 2000s, and most people are familiar with its use in rapid, iterative software development. However, are there other applications for Agile methods and principles? Can we apply Agile principles more generally even in the field of organization design?
At its core, Agile is about engaging a group of talented individuals to quickly and iteratively address a specific innovation or development challenge. Perhaps the greatest asset any organization has is their talent, and Agile approaches have the potential to unleash the creative thinking and potential of your best talent. Many have even argued that Agile has the power to produce “Twice the work in half of the time” (see Scrum, the Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time). While Agile may not work in every work situation, it can help your talented employees accomplish extraordinary things for your organization.
So, how can we leverage this potential in organization design? There are many Agile principles that we regularly use in our organization design consulting practice that align with Agile principles and methods. Consider just a few:
Utilize your talent. People and processes are more important than tools and technologies (Agile Manifesto) and bring something unique to the table: creativity and ingenuity for solving tough problems. Rather than rely on the latest tools and technologies for all the answers, Agile helps you better leverage your internal talent for activities that you can’t automate.
Additionally, involving a variety of internal individuals in Agile scrums (or as we would say in the organization design field, design sessions) helps naturally align your organization, creates change agents, increases employee investment in the solution, provides learning opportunities for up-and-coming talent, and produces richer outcomes.
Reach beyond your organization. Agile scrums bring internal talent, customers, and stakeholders together to co-create a solution. As a result, you get more complete outcomes that utilize a variety of viewpoints and minimize market blind spots.
We treat our design sessions the exact same way. We help our partners create a session roster with top talent from throughout the organization and beyond. These talented individuals likely haven’t worked as a team before and experience new ways of working and talking about the organization through the organization design process. The result is strong session energy that excites, motivates, and ultimately helps the participants create and align the organization around creative outcomes and solutions to tough organizational problems.
Utilize sprints. Agile scrums generally work in short sessions called sprints. Rarely are these sprints a one-and-done affair. Instead, they happen regularly and create quick prototypes (or solution testing) and allow the team to readily adapt to changing environments and information as well as immediately test and refine their solutions in real-world settings.
Similarly, we regularly break up the organization design process into regular sprints (or sessions) occurring throughout the organization. These sprints are intense work sessions that often deal with tough organizational politics and drive creative solutions that can adapt to other outputs, market changes, and use case results. These short but intense sessions are extremely effective and create creative, iterative, and flexible outcomes.
Overall, using Agile methodology in organization design is a powerful way to utilize your internal talent, involve external players, remain flexible, and create solutions that people can test iteratively and adapt as necessary. Where appropriate, executives should consider how to adopt Agile ways of working and creating. Agile may have started as a software development solution, but it has proved a powerful approach to differentiate organizations, help companies through the organization transformation journey, develop a better organization design outcomes, and create superior business strategies.