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December 08, 2016
An Agile Attitude is Key to Digital Innovation
By: Dan Farrell

We all now know it: if you want your business to be around in five years’ time, you need a serious digital innovation capability. Your customers’ expectations are higher than ever thanks to the superior experiences offered by digital disruptors, and if your products can’t compete, your market share will quickly dry up.

Why Are The Digital Disrupters Thriving?
It’s not just external customer services that businesses need to consider when it comes to delivering an industry-disruptive customer experience. Those who succeed are finding that digital, cloud-based business applications bring unprecedented efficiencies to core business processes such as supply chain, HR, finance, and sales. These nimble newcomers—your competitors—can match supply to demand more flexibly, attract the best industry talent, and ensure operations are optimised end to end to provide a seamless experience for customers and employees.

It’s now clear: without an agile digital capability, your business won’t be competitive. But how do you know when you’ve got the right capability in place? Well, you need to be prepared to fail first. And you’ll be happy when you do.

The Absence Of Agile In The Past
In the past, product development teams spent months or even years planning a product or service. The aim was to deliver a perfect, bug-free service so comprehensive it would meet the business need exactly—whether it was an amazing new customer product or a more efficient business application for the internal customer.

In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, your business and the market will have potentially moved on by the time the new product is ready. The opportunity itself has, more often than not, evolved, vanished, or been superseded by a new entrant, leaving you with an already obsolete product or service, or, at best, one of limited value.

The Presence Of Agile In The Future
Modern, “agile” development, on the other hand, aims to launch a minimal viable product as soon as possible. If it fails a little, that’s fine. The idea is to learn from failure to evolve the product. By plugging the lessons of failure into the product development and accepting that the first delivery will be imperfect, your business can create a loop of continuous innovation where each new version of the service better meets the needs of its customers.

Let me be clear. If you want to ensure long-term success for your business, you really must adapt and embrace an agile mindset. This is a shift from a project mindset to a product mindset, from discreet and finite working practices to continuous improvement. With agile, the product is never complete—it’s in a permanent state of revision and perfection.

The aim is simple. Address the business opportunity as quickly as possible so you can capitalise on the opportunity from the start. Once you have a stake in the game, there’s plenty of time to refine and enhance the service.

How To Build Agile Attitudes
This is a world away from the tried-and-tested product development practices of the past. Creating a culture within your marketing teams and business that allows for agile means embracing these three steps:

  1. Empower. Form the best team possible and give them the freedom they need to succeed. Rather than specifying desired outcomes, start with a business benefit you want to deliver and leave the team to work out the best way of achieving it. Think in terms of broad roadmaps and a continuum of work rather than finite budgets and project delivery deadlines.

  2. Enable. Give the team the agile tools they need to do their jobs. Continuous delivery and iterative development are best achieved through modern DevOps tools that leverage the simplicity, scalability, and flexibility of the cloud. The right tools will take away friction and create a lean and effective development team that can move at speed and innovate at will.

  3. Extend. Large organisations often make the mistake of limiting agile to small pockets of adoption within the business. This simply doesn’t work. Agile needs to be applied broadly across the business and be supported from the CEO down, as the senior team plays a crucial role in setting the business priorities and product direction.

Agile Leaders
Companies embracing the idea of agile include Google and Spotify. The former’s Google X exists to invent “moonshot” technologies that could someday make the world a better place. Failure is recognised as not only part of the process, but an essential part of progress. All ideas are welcome, risks are encouraged, and failure is even rewarded.

Rather than distribute “perfect” upgrades or new services, music-streaming service Spotify encourages its squads to release products “early and often.” By testing, tweaking, and releasing constant upgrades, Spotify continuously improves the customer experience.

What Next?
According to the 10th Annual State of Agile Report by VersionOne, just 24% of respondents from large enterprises currently use agile development. While this number is increasing each year, there’s still an opportunity for you to get first-mover advantage from a rapid move to agile.

Iterative innovation, or “fail fast,” delivers a competitive edge that cannot be overstated. What is your innovation capability like? Ask yourself whether you’re able to get to market first and then to continue to deliver on customer expectations. Also look at how you can best incorporate user feedback into a continual innovation loop.

Ensure what you are trying to achieve determines its delivery approach through an organisation, not the other way around. Understand how small multi-skilled agile teams can accelerate product development, and empower these teams to explore quickly and learn to succeed faster.

If you want to compete with these agile mavericks, you simply have to adopt the fearless new mindset. This is an evolution that will take time—you need to start today.

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