The term ‘agile’ is being used more frequently as companies recognise the need to quickly adapt and evolve. Agile is a cultural and organisational mindset. It challenges the traditional way of working to allow businesses to be more reactive to market changes, competitors and employees’ needs.
With this in mind, we’ve outlined three key trends shaping today’s workplace and associated agile ‘best practices’ that will ultimately ensure an organisation remains efficient while meeting the needs of its staff.
1. A new workforce of millennials
This poses new challenges to organisations based on their unique work style, collaborative abilities and impact on company culture.
It is apparent that the marketplace has become fast-paced since the entrance of millennials. The millennial demographic identifies themselves as being digitally savvy and demand a more fulfilling working environment. It is estimated that almost three-quarters of the workforce will comprise millennials by 2025, indicating the importance for companies to understand the needs of this generation in order to attract and retain strong talent and thus build a competitive business with longevity.
One notable change that the emergence of this demographic has brought to the workplace, is the desire to work in a more flexible manner and not be constrained by the 9-to-5 mentality. Whether that’s allowing employees to have unconventional working hours or allowing staff to work remotely or in different locations, businesses are beginning to promote their versatility in order to attract the best talent.
A number of practices for companies to consider to ensure that they are offering flexible working options in a way that doesn’t impact the efficiency or productivity of the organisation include:
Ensure employees make clear commitments
People who work from home often worry about staying visible to their colleagues and compensate by working longer hours which is not conducive to an efficient and happy workforce. Hard work should never be equated with ‘hours worked’ but instead employees should be encouraged to think about ‘results achieved’. One practice which helps to overcome this is to ensure employees make clear commitments to the whole team and take responsibility for the work they are going to do so it can be measured against the work they produce. Create a ‘working agreement’ for everyone to sign which details the best practices of how to take advantage of the specific situation.
The agile manifesto states that a team should take time to reflect at regular intervals on how to become more effective, then tune and adjust its behaviour accordingly. The principle can work with any team; each individual can discuss what they have been working on so all the pieces of the puzzle can fit together. It will help the team to work better together knowing that everyone is playing their part and creates an additional level of transparency.
A framework for flexible working should be created but the culture change happens quicker if individuals work together in adopting their new way of working. Questions that should be asked include: Do we want to agree to be in the office at certain times? How can we trust that everyone is accountable? How will we know if flexible working works for us?
2. New technologies and how they are driving change
Competition is popping up in unusual places as a result of rapid and continuous advancements in technology. In addition to obvious competitors and related markets, innovators in completely different industries now have the ability to completely shake a market. Take the introduction of the smartphone/iPhone, for instance. For navigation companies like Garmin, they weren’t looking to the mobile industry for disruptive competition. When Apple put out the iPhone, the navigation companies had no immediate way to compete – and their market position and stock price suffered.
This is not just a concern for bigger organisations. According to a recent survey more than one-quarter of respondents (by the Economist Intelligence Unit) say that their organisation is at a competitive disadvantage because it is not agile enough to anticipate fundamental marketplace shifts. Implementing such practices ensures that you can respond and react to external developments faster.
Agile practices to consider include:
- Performance: Execution is the foundation for building agility. Improving cycle time will significantly impact your bottom line. Speed helps you monetise incremental value and get to revenue sooner;
- Scale: Proven approaches for scaling enterprise agility include;
- Scale teams: Create smaller teams all working toward a common release objective;
- Scale work: User stories at the team level scale up to business features and initiatives;
- Growth: PricewaterhouseCoopers has found that most industries spend fewer than 15 percent of their IT budgets on innovation. But highly effective organisations allocate closer to 50 percent of budget on growth initiatives vs. maintenance. The market doesn’t give you any credit for maintenance; only for growth; and
- Organise around customer value: You must connect with your market, customers, and other stakeholders, and connect within your own organisation. Breaking down functional silos is imperative: it minimises dependencies, reduces waste, improves collaboration and allows you to respond to opportunities and threats quickly and confidently.
3. The impending shortage of programmers
It is estimated that 900,000 IT jobs will need to be filled by 2020 across the European Union, and 745,000 more workers with digital skills will be needed by 2017 in the UK alone. The UK is making strides as one of the first countries in Europe to make computer programming mandatory across UK primary and secondary schools. However, it is up to the businesses to ensure that computer programming roles are viewed as attractive positions for both men and women, through ongoing education.
This effort is supported by agile’s underlying principles built on values of collaboration, delivery, quality and craft.
Each of these workforce trends calls for companies to be Agile in their business approach. Employees are already adopting Agile practices in their evolving approach to work. If organisations and employers are able to get ahead of these trends, they will have staff who feel empowered, trusted and autonomous, ultimately resulting in happier and more productive teams.
Adrian Jones is VP EMEA at Rally Software.
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