Business Agility: The New Norm. How to Run a Lean and Mean Organization.

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What originated in the software industry is being adopted by more businesses. Find out why and how you can improve the efficiency of your company.

Many people have heard about the agile project management method and how it helps teams achieve better results on projects. But do you know that the agile method is gaining traction in the business world? In fact, more businesses are becoming agile.

Business agility has recently been covered by business publications like Harvard Business Review. A good description of an agile business could be found here.

Agile was invented by software engineers more than a decade ago to plan and track software projects. The aim was to bring products to market faster than ever before. With other methods, the majority of software projects finished late and had cost overruns. Engineers were seeking a better approach and came up with a totally new way for planning and managing projects.

The agile concept is quite simple. Its core principle is to break projects down into small, incremental builds, and complete tasks in as short a duration as possible.

In practice, agile uses continuous improvements in delivering products. As soon as the minimum viable product (MVP) is reached, the product is launched. Customer data is collected while they use the MVP, and the results are analyzed. Based on this analysis, the product is enhanced and/or modified and shipped again.

This process continues until the product reaches maturity. The beauty of this approach is that the product is shipped when it makes sense to ship it to the customer and not when it is completely done. It also gathers customer feedback for future improvements in real time.

Instead of shipping products once a year or even once a month, continuous delivery lets software teams deliver products once a day or even a few times each day. If you are not familiar with the agile method, read this tutorial. Due to the success of the agile method in the software industry, many other operations have adopted Agile, too.

The agile method not only works well for engineering and manufacturing units, but it can help business units to work smarter and get faster results. If you want to know how important it is to use agile methods for your business, just remember that Amazon, Google and Apple all use it in their businesses.

So how can you make your business agile? Does only having your product development team use the agile method make your business agile?

To be an agile business, all of your business units and departments should run on the agile method. This means your HR department, your sales and marketing team, even your manufacturing and accounting units practice agile. If any department in your organization is not agile, you will not get the full benefits of running an agile organization.

So how does a business become agile? First, only a lean organization can be agile. Too many layers of management is a killer of productivity. A near flat management structure cuts the levels of management, which tend to make decisions slowly and inefficiently.

Second, you need to reduce number and duration of meetings your teams have each week. Any meeting longer than half an hour is too long. Keep the meetings standing-room gatherings and only invite people who have a direct stake in the outcome of the meeting and the project.

Publish the meeting agenda beforehand and allocate time for each topic you want to cover. If other issues are brought up in the meeting, defer them to a smaller group to tackle those.

Start by taking small steps toward making your business agile and reap the rewards of a lean and mean fighting organization.

David Robins

Founder and CEO of Binfire.com, a project management and collaboration software company. Previously the Director of Engineering for digital products at Polaroid Corporation. M.S.E Computer Engineering from Cornell University.

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