Agile Way of Working is the Future of Work


Mary Laniyan

TODAY’S VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) calls for a rethink on how we organise, perceive our work and execute to deliver value speedily to the customer, because the volatile environment would very quickly invalidate innovations if you rest on your laurels.

A few giants have fallen already in an environment where the fast would eat the slow. Speed trumps size and if not carefully reviewed, size may actually be an impediment to agility and ultimately to success in the long term.

Once upon a time, big in the physical sense, by number of branches and employees, access to funding, etc was synonymous with success. Presence in every nook and cranny- bringing business closer to the communities- was a game changer, especially for the financial sector. Setting up a new branch was always a strategic imperative.

Today, however, having the agility to pivot speedily to the changing needs of the customer with outstanding customer experience is the differentiator.

Agile, as a way of working, has its roots in software development. It emerged when a group of software developers with common challenges in software delivery came together in 2001 to find a way to overcome their challenges and develop better software. While they could not agree on a single framework as a standard for better software development, they came away with a manifesto and set of principles by which any framework considered to be an Agile framework complied.

What Is Agile?

Agile is an iterative and incremental approach to product development. The iterative approach allows for the speedy delivery of value to customers in increments called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) until all functional features are delivered.

It ensures quick feedback cycles for the next iteration and subsequently an improvement in the quality of the next increment delivered. These short cycles mean the changing needs of the customer can be factored into the next cycle, ultimately ensuring the customer gets the right product speedily, one that is usable and adds value to the customer.

This is in sharp contrast to the traditional way of managing projects and delivering products, where requirements are gathered upfront as much as possible and baselined for a major one-off delivery, during which time the needs of the customer may have changed and the deliverables no longer add value. These, among others, are the shortcomings Agile addresses, and beyond Agile practices, the real benefit comes from Agile being a mindset.


Benefits of Agile

With Agile, you achieve speed to market, more customer involvement, capture changing requirements, get frequent feedback and achieve high quality deliverables through the collaboration of an independent high performing Agile team with latitude for creativity and innovation.

Most importantly, Agile being a mindset, helps create a conducive environment in which psychological safety can continue to improve for knowledge workers to think and apply themselves.

State of Agile Adoption in Nigeria

Agile, as a way of working and a mindset, is still very much in its infancy in Nigeria. Start-ups, however, are kicking off with agility ingrained in their model. Some progressive organisations in the private sector are already experimenting with their software development teams.

The private and public sectors in Nigeria would benefit greatly from this way of working, especially for the shift in mindset it provides. Nigeria, with a population of over 190 million, has its strength in its people, but this is a resource that is yet to be fully leveraged. The sub optimisation of our human resource can be partly attributed to old organisational cultures created from the influence of our national cultures and the practices handed down from the industrial revolution and scientific era of standardisation of work, an era where little or no thinking was required, needing only to follow a standard procedure or do as directed, a culture that stifles thinking, learning and innovation.

Government, as a major employer of labour, would benefit greatly from the Agile way of working, through establishing Agile teams that are organised around a value stream, an Agile team with an entrepreneurial mindset committed to the delivery of value to better serve its citizens continuously.

The Future is Business Agility

The future is business agility. To achieve business agility, you need organisational agility. Essentially, beyond the development teams, all levels, business segments and support functions need to key into the Agile way of working.

The benefit of organisational agility lies in the fact that the entire organisation is aligned and in sync on strategic priorities and a consistent brand strategy, as well as sprinting forward as one unit.    The alternative is the wider organisation constituting an impediment to business agility, often only giving the illusion of agility, where an idea moves ever so slowly through the hierarchical system, eventually making it to the team for execution, by which time speed is an illusion and value dissipated.

Challenges To Agility

The Nigerian society is very strongly patriarchal and hierarchical in power relations. This is reflective of our corporate culture and tends to be top heavy with information mostly flowing in one direction (a do as directed culture) and one in which psychological safety in the workplace is still very much in its infancy.

In a knowledge economy, which, without a doubt, Nigeria is today, where employees are supposedly paid for their brains, we need to question the hierarchical structures and the associated mindset with which we govern, given that we need to create an environment in which knowledge workers can think, be creative and innovative. Does the status quo currently constitute an impediment to change and business agility?

Every change is a challenge, and Agile is no exception. Many management fads have come and gone, but Agile is not another management fad and it is here to stay, because it is all about emotional intelligence and psychological safety ultimately, and that is most definitely a good concept to embrace.

Think Agile! Go Agile! Be Agile!

·         .Laniyan, an Agile Enterprise Transformation Coach/SAFe Programme Consultant, writes from Lagos