What is agile working?

What is agile working?

Agile working is not a new concept. The idea was conceived back in the mid-nineties and has been an integral part of modern organizations ever since. Agile is gaining acceptance as leaders recognize its significant benefits - both for the company as a whole and for individuals.

The crucial question is not "What is agile and what is not?". The question is rather what working environment, what culture, and what methods an organization needs in order to meet current and future challenges.

Every year, there is a new term for agility that is supposed to show that its users are ahead of the curve. Mostly, such art words aim to sell us, say, office furniture that supposedly enables new ways of working and thinking. However, it's not about the art words, new-work offices and beanbag chairs we hear so much about. Agile working is about a fundamental shift in the way organizations work, people interact and how they are managed. It's about real change in the work environment and for the well-being of people in organizations. The focus is on shaping the way we work today and tomorrow to meet the needs of our customers with the right services and products.

Definition: Agile working

Agile working is often defined as "the ability to work at the place and time best suited to the task at hand." But agile working is so much more. It's not just about hot desking or desk sharing, nor is it solely about working from home. These are just a few of many possible components.

Agile working is also possible without hot desking. And without working from home. Agile working allows people to work where and when it best suits the outcomes (the products, services or tasks) they have to deliver. It's about self-engagement and self-organization of good, trained and empowered employees. It's about trusting in people and their capabilities and giving them the space to make the right decision. It is about leading them in the right way, encouraging, guiding and training them to improve their productivity, creativity and quality of results. Agility is not the destination, it is the journey. The goal is satisfactory delivery of added value in the form of services or products.

So we see that agile working is much more than a methodology. It is a philosophy or culture that focuses on empowered people and their interactions, and on delivering value early and consistently. Agile has an enduring appeal. It has proven itself in recent years, particularly in software development. It is now being successfully applied in more and more business areas.

What are the benefits of agile working?

Agile working offers a whole host of benefits. It empowers employees, creates accountability, promotes diversity of ideas, and allows for faster utilization of services and products. It also promotes continuous improvement. It allows decisions to be tested and discarded early on. This is ensured by feedback loops, which cannot be realized at this speed by traditional ways of working. Furthermore, agile working helps to implement changes when requirements or framework conditions are uncertain. It additionally helps build customer and user engagement by keeping team members focused on what will bring the most value.

However, agile working methods also offer risks. The focus is on small, incremental changes. The challenge is that without a vision, the view of the big picture can be lost and uncertainty can arise among those involved.

In addition, consensus building takes time and challenges many norms and expectations. Resource costs can also increase, as teams must co-locate or invest in infrastructure to collaborate remotely. There can also be a perception that responsibility is shifting from the empowered customer to the empowered project team - with the risk that benefits are lost because the project team is focusing on the wrong things.

What distinguishes agile from traditional ways of working?

The differences between traditional and agile working methods are enormous. Increasing competition is forcing organizations to achieve better results faster. More and more companies are therefore questioning traditional ways of working and methods. In the short-lived IT industry, agile models such as Scrum, SAFe or Kaban have already proven their worth. They promise to transform slow top-down organizations into flexible and dynamic companies.

Agility has great potential, but Scrum & Co. are not always the better choice.

While agile working has been proven to have significant benefits for both the people acting and the organizations that introduce this way of working. It can be implemented very successfully and with short payback times. However, this must be done correctly and with consideration for the needs and concerns of the organization, customers and employees.

This means organizations need to take time to consider what is best for them and how they can find their own implementation of Agile. Adaptation that is aligned with fostering the right culture and achieving their goals is critical. When organizations do this, the improvements in employee well-being and productivity benefit everyone: not just the organization and employees, but customers and even employees' families and the broader community - like ripples in a pond. Why shouldn't providing everyone with a workplace that helps him or her thrive and be happy be a fundamental goal?

Organizations that have successfully launched an agile transformation find that morale improves, employee retention increases, and the culture becomes friendlier, more collaborative, and more innovative. It's a simple equation: if you empower your employees and provide them with the frameworks, methods and tools to better manage their day, they will be happy and more productive. Happy employees are more loyal. Loyal employees are more productive. More productive employees deliver better results.

You want to learn more about agility and modern working techniques? Contact us - we will be happy to help you!


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