Delivering value to customers before the competitor does: This is the goal of every company in today’s digital business climate. The competition is fiercer and faster than ever — just think about the start-ups and asymmetric competitors. To stay in the game, many organisations are considering going agile.

The hope is that the agile way of thinking and working will make processes faster, leaner and easier for organisations to adapt to new trends. But in this race, organisations often forget about the complexities of agile working and the big organisational change they need to harvest the benefits of being agile.

Changing to agile from traditional business models is challenging and demanding. Agile working requires breaking old habits, such as mistrusting your partners in the supply chain, and adopting the idea of working as a single team with a common goal — regardless of which organisational unit or partner company you belong to.

Change your leadership style and the organisational culture

The change starts with the leaders. Leaders need to change their mind-set about the organisational structure, working style and processes, change the KPIs and think about a lean budget.

Wave goodbye to the hierarchy and constant controlling and say hello to a collaborative model. Start with your teams and employees, train them, explain agile and the change of functions and processes so that everyone understands his or her role. Think about how you can get your teams to collaborate well. Then reinforce this collaboration with the ecosystem of partners, suppliers and contractors.

Build trust

Trust is a core value. You need to trust your teams and the entire ecosystem. For example, your software/product development teams will become more autonomous. Once the business priorities are set, they will decide how much effort is required to implement a feature in a sprint, without anyone telling them how and what to do.

Tear down the walls

The barriers between the business and IT break down with the agile model and the introduction of the role of the product owner, responsible for maximising the value of a product developed by the development team. Business and IT come closer together to bring value faster, but also to motivate the employees. This means no more micromanagement. Establishing value-oriented, self-organised teams that work towards a common goal is what you want to achieve.

The same goes for collaborating with your ecosystem. In traditional organisational structures, the business, the demand organisation, the IT organisation and the suppliers had their own kingdoms, and they didn’t all communicate with each other. In agile working, the business has to cooperate with everyone, as everything is organised around services and products with customer-centricity and business value in mind

Operating as a single organism with a common goal is the key to success in agile. It’s not about taking one segment of the value chain and making it agile. The whole organisation and ecosystem needs to be agile and work in the same direction. Raise awareness, train your employees, know what to do, how to set the teams. Follow the agile principles. Whether an organisation is willing to adopt agile values and a new mind-set will determine whether it will be successful with agile. The biggest risk is to pretend you are agile, without truly embracing it. This leads to waste, frustration and a fallback to the same behaviours without gaining any benefit from the agile transformation.

Customer satisfaction

The customer is at the centre of this cultural and organisational change. The Agile Manifesto says customer satisfaction is obtained through early and continuous delivery of products and software to customers. Your customers are becoming your partners.

As customer demand is changing fast, organisations today don’t have the luxury of planning a product a year in advance. The time frame is a couple of months – or even weeks. You need to find out quickly whether the customers like your product. What if you plan a product a year in advance, but then find that the market isn’t interested in it?

True innovators, like start-ups, are faster to deliver products because they don’t have a lengthy product development process. On the other hand, they need to quickly scale up and ensure quality once the product or service resonates with the market. Agile working means developing and releasing the product to customers in a short time — sometimes in only 4 weeks. You have an idea and want to try it out quickly and see whether the market likes it. If it works, great! If not, you’ve learned a lesson for the next idea. However, at some point you will need to scale, and new scaled agile best practices are being refined, such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) or Nexus.

Do you have to go agile?

If you follow the principles of agile — trust, respect, openness, empowerment, collaboration — the benefits are great. You have greater flexibility, faster time to market, better quality and efficiency, paired with lower attrition and higher employee satisfaction.

Do you have to do it? Maybe not. Some organisations realise they don’t have the cultural mind-set for it, and they struggle to change. In this case, it might be better to stick to traditional models and accept some principles of agile.

So, you don’t have to be agile. But, you have to be lean if you want to stay competitive. Sticking to the old ways probably won’t help you get to market faster and ahead of your competitors.