What does agile working mean? What are the benefits? Can tools help?
24/02/2021 |

What does agile working mean? What are the benefits? Can tools help?

More and more companies are opting for agile working. But what exactly does it mean, how can it be implemented successfully, and what are the difficulties?

Scrum board with yellow postits showing tasks and problems.

Agility has been an increasingly common term for quite some time and is mentioned primarily in connection with various work practices.

The first efforts toward agile working already existed in the early 2000s in software development. In the meantime, this trend spread to other industries.

Originally, “agile” meant nimble or able to move quickly. One often hears of “agile management,” “agile companies,” or “agile working methods” when talking about agility. In these contexts, digitization plays a role as a driver that should not be underestimated, because it forces considerable rapid change in the form of technical development and innovations. And, all of this happens at a speed for which companies are often not prepared.

Rigid structures or slow lengthy processes, as are often established in larger corporations, prevent them from keeping up this pace. Agile teams can, therefore, also be seen as a reaction to digital transformation.

Agile working comes into play at different levels in companies — starting with agile teams, through agile leadership to a fully agile organization.

But when is a company agile?

In terms of a company, agility describes its ability to perceive changes or signs of them at an early stage and, above all, to react or adapt to them accordingly and quickly. In other words, it means more flexibility, a significantly faster ability to act, and innovative, creative thinking instead of outdated processes.

In today’s world, companies gain a competitive advantage through agility. “Classic” organizations often operate in a process-oriented, project-oriented, or a hybrid way. These organizational structures may not be able to keep up with changes in today’s turbulent, volatile environment. For a company, agility, therefore, means operating profitably in a competitive environment that is characterized by constantly changing customer needs.

With the agile company, everything is oriented around the customer.

Traditional organizations focus primarily on themselves and think in so-called silos. In agile companies, on the other hand, everything is oriented around the customer and maximizing the customer’s benefits. Agile companies are characterized by transparency and an open dialog; they require trust as opposed to tight rules, strict specifications, and only very limited personal responsibility by employees, as typically found in “conventionally” organized structures.

Knowledge transfer, culture of mistakes and motivation

Another elementary component of agile companies is the desired knowledge sharing and a culture in which mistakes are addressed openly and honestly so that they can be discussed in a goal-oriented manner. This is not about reprimanding or criticizing, but primarily about taking the opportunity to learn from mistakes, identify weaknesses, and initiate improvements.

In agile companies, managers are not supervisors who put employees under pressure, but they instead motivate, encourage and increasingly delegate responsibility to individuals and teams.
Employees are involved in personnel planning as far as possible and are also more intensively involved in applicant selection processes, for example, than in traditionally operating companies.

The advantages of agile working at a glance:

  • More accurate results

    In an agile organization, it is possible to adapt to new conditions and expectations at any time and thus deliver results that meet current needs. Rigid structures have a clear disadvantage here.

  • Increased customer orientation

    The needs-based approach results in increased customer satisfaction, because demand can be responded to directly and flexibly.

  • More security

    Agile working prevents problems caused by short-term changes. Agile companies thus remain competitive and have advantages over the competition.

  • Employee motivation

    In teams that work in an agile manner, increased employee satisfaction can be expected. Every team member is actively involved and identifies more with company values.

  • Increased productivity

    As a rule, agile teams work in a more focused manner because tasks are performed sequentially, which results in an increase in productivity.

  • Optimized resource allocation

    Cross-departmental and cross-functional work require efficient communication and transparency, which significantly support optimal resource planning and allocation.

As we can see, there are a lot of advantages to agile working, agile teams or even completely agile companies. So why hasn’t this way of working been implemented in the majority of companies for a long time?

Well, by no means can management decide to work in an agile way overnight. Rather, the introduction of agile teams is a process that starts with attitude. Rethinking is the keyword. The entire company organization with all its structures must be taken into account.

So there are prerequisites to be established in order to enable agile working:

    • Regular exchange is required so that everyone involved has the relevant information.
    • A clear vision that takes into account the corporate culture and serves as a basis for decision-making should be used as a guide.
    • Tasks should be planned in shorter steps, and larger projects should be divided into several phases.
    • Open and constant exchanges about weaknesses, optimization possibilities and questioning of the approach should be encouraged.
    • Teams and employees must be able to act and decide responsibilities on their own in order to avoid long, obstructive decision-making processes.
    • Opportunities for customers to communicate ideas and wishes must be created, and these should always be the basis of your own actions.

Starting with communication and corporate culture

These preconditions that need to be created make it clear that the introduction of an agile way of working has a great deal to do with the corporate culture and efficient communication. As already mentioned, an open culture of mistakes plays a decisive role here.

Only if employees are given the feeling that they are “allowed to make mistakes” and that “mistakes are normal and are part of it,” will they dare to go new ways, make decisions more confidently and open themselves up to new ways of seeing and thinking. It is then important that mistakes are communicated and talked about in the team.

This requires trust, which is another important component when we talk about corporate culture. Trust is the basis of one of the important prerequisites for agile working – personal responsibility and the freedom to make decisions.

To establish a culture of trust in the company, it must be lived and exemplified — above all from management.

Managers play an important role in the introduction of agile work anyway. They must be 100% and clearly behind the project, be approachable and communicate with employees. A lot of new things are coming to the workforce; there is uncertainty and roles may be changing. That’s why employees now particularly need support and understanding from the management level.

Methods

In addition to the cultural aspects, it is also about the methods that are necessary to work in an agile manner.

Two examples:

SCRUM

This method relies on self-organization and includes as few and as simple rules as possible with which a project team achieves common goals. Scrum is not a process specification, but rather it is a framework. It originally comes from software technology, but it is now also used in other industries. The project participants can determine the working method themselves within the framework.

In this type of agile project management, a team should be able to organize itself and covers various competencies. One works in feedback rounds of a few weeks, so-called sprints. Based on interim results, the procedure is constantly adjusted, with concrete plans only being created for the next sprint. This allows the teams to react better to adversity. Each sprint is considered a self-contained project.

After each sprint, a decision is made whether another one is needed. If all participants are satisfied with the current result, the work on it is finished. There are three different roles in the Scrum team: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the team members. The product owner is responsible for the technical requirements; the scrum master manages processes and is responsible for solving any problems that arise.

Open Fridays

In the Open Fridays concept, employees meet across departments on a voluntary basis and propose topics that are important to them. They work with Post-Its on which the topics are written and then presented to the other participants. In this way, topic-related teams are formed to work on these topics.

The special aspect is that an exchange of experience takes place between people who do not normally work together. In addition, this often puts topics on an agenda that would usually go by the wayside without this initiative.

The whole measure promotes cross-departmental collaboration and helps to break down silo thinking.

Increased productivity in the agile team

Agile working is primarily aimed at optimizing productivity in the team. If important rules are observed here, positive results should be achieved quickly in this regard:

    • Short, efficient but more regular and focused meetings
    • Acting openly and trying things out – the way is the goal
    • Sharing knowledge and communicating
    • Small teams or work groups increase efficiency and productivity
    • Living a culture of mistakes

Agile working through successful change – with the help of tools.

Agile working means meeting new circumstances and challenges, reacting to them and adapting. It is always about change. Staying successful in the face of change requires support.
Business success and growth are based on clear structures, optimized processes and efficient communication – a basis to enable free space for creative approaches and agile working teams.

Tools can be of great benefit in adapting to constantly changing requirements. For example, service management software, such as OTRS, can be used. This work structuring and communication solution helps keep processes and communication with colleagues and customers running smoothly. After all, efficient communication is one of the keys to agile working.

This keeps service quality up, makes resource planning feasible despite decentralized teams, and keeps employees motivated – for example, through a large number of personalization options.

In addition, OTRS can be used as an enterprise service management solution that benefits every department in a company.

Some concrete advantages of using OTRS:

Dynamic search

OTRS offers agents to share their ticket search templates with other agents. There is no need to create them over and over again. Finding documents is also much faster thanks to the dynamic search.

Ticketing and workflows

Service management tools enable the automation of tickets and workflows and offer a wealth of different functionalities that can be integrated as required – for every area of the company.

Data update

Updating a cost center, serial number or other value is often relevant in transactions, but it can take a lot of time. OTRS reduces this effort significantly via the display of the dynamic fields in the bulk action. The administrator no longer needs to be involved for such a process!

Structured communication

A daily routine with text templates is often the daily bread of agents in service teams. Mostly, however, these templates only cover the body text. OTRS can do more and makes it possible, for example, to predefine the subject as well. This makes communication even more consistent and structured.

Assignment and overview

Assignments and complete histories prevent errors and allow tasks to be completed quickly. Fast access to information ensures efficiency, timely reactions and adapted measures.

Individual customization

For standardized and frequently recurring workflows, there are already integrated process templates in OTRS. But individual processes can also be created without any problems.

No matter if it is search, data update or templates, innovative features help to design processes efficiently and thus allow teams to act faster and simpler.

The use of tools is, therefore, of great benefit to agile teams and essential in order to be able to survive in competition.

Where there is light, there is also shadow

Now we have heard about the many benefits that agile working brings. More flexibility, increased efficiency, optimized customer loyalty and increased employee motivation. Strong arguments in favor of agile working.

But are there also disadvantages? Or rather, what are the challenges that need to be taken into account? We actually already know the answer to these questions since they are rooted in the advantages.

Agile working is basically the implementation of a completely new corporate culture, in which every employee must be willing and able to take on responsibility and in which managers must hand it over. These facts hold a lot of potential for conflict, because employees’ work lives will be less convenient. This must be dealt with; or, an individual approach is needed to take into account that people are different and not everyone is comfortable with an agile way of working. At least not immediately.

Even though agile companies offer interesting opportunities for many, there are others who feel overwhelmed by this new freedom, especially people for whom fixed structures and specifications provide security. They could lose their footing in an agile work environment. In addition, one’s own work becomes more transparent than before and is constantly evaluated. This can cause stress and give the impression of being under constant observation. Especially for rather introverted people, negative effects could result. Not to mention the often different, namely more openly designed workspaces of an agile company, which can quickly make private people feel uncomfortable.

In the end, it’s a matter of trying things out and considering the implementation of agile working individually, taking circumstances into account and approaching it in a well thought-out manner.

Detect and react

Agile working is based on independence and a willingness to take responsibility. Above all, it requires the right attitude toward change and openness. Therefore: Act agilely when introducing agile working. Regularly check whether adjustments are necessary, exchange ideas and elicit input as to where difficulties lie.

Above all – react, because

Good luck!

Text:
Photos: Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

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