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The Agile Workplace: What You Must Know Before You Change

“Process, people, technology- wherever the problem is- you can make a change and fix it before the client comes in and says ‘that’s not what I wanted.’”

Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series on the Agile Workplace. Part two is here, you can find part three here.

Agile.

The word started popping up in business publications towards the end of 2016, and it’s developed into much more than a buzzword, featured in blogs and articles focusing on both employees and their employers- but what does “agile” really mean for you and your business today?

The idea of an “agile” workplace was born in Silicon Valley and actually dates back to the late 1990’s when tech companies began forming small teams to take on tasks one at a time, and measured their successes in small increments.

That framework grew as technology advanced and workers became connected 24/7. Employees weren’t split up by department, they shared open spaces with co-workers of divergent skillsets in non-traditional environments that might include sofas, ping-pong tables and smoothie bars. Their productivity wasn’t measured by the number of hours they put in, but by the work they accomplished- no matter when or where they completed their tasks.

Some have gone as far as to compare this working model to the development of the assembly line- the impact on the workforce has been that significant. Leaders in Marketing and other departments have looked at the agile framework and adopted some of the practices as well.

Robert Rivera is Director of Growth Strategy at Xceleration, and has helped several companies make the transition to an “agile” model.

Small, short, hyper-focused meetings called “Stand-Ups” are key to the success of an agile workplace.

“We’re not doing projects in six-month or one-year increments anymore,” Rivera says. “We’re doing bite-sized chunks, and the reason we’re doing this is that we can fail faster.”

“Fail faster” sounds terrible, but the agile approach turns conventional thinking like “failure is bad” on its ear.

“That just means if something doesn’t work you can make an immediate change, you learn from your mistakes,” Rivera explains. “Process, people, technology- wherever the problem is- you can make a change and fix it before the client comes in and says ‘that’s not what I wanted.’”

Changes and shifts in priorities come fast under the agile umbrella, and workforces need to be responsive and connected enough to adapt to sudden pivots. Communication is key- regular short meetings, called “Stand-Ups,” and instant messaging systems like Slack are critical since all the employees working on a particular project at a particular time may not be under the same roof- or even in the same country.

Managers considering a shift to an agile framework have a lot to think about. Rivera says it starts with your leadership.

“You have to ask if your team is structured to be agile,” he says.

In our next blog, we’ll look at what your team needs to do to make the transition.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series on the Agile Workplace. Part two is here, you can find part three here.

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