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The Culture and Practice Behind Agile Innovation

Vinod Saratchandran
Vinod Saratchandran

Agile innovation must be front and center of your organization’s culture.

True to its name, agile innovation is helping businesses all over the world grow quickly and effectively. With competition growing fiercer by the minute, companies understand the need to keep growing.

Agile innovation is the catalyst that helps companies really get that edge over the competition. It supercharges the focus on innovation with agile principles, enabling the organization to respond swiftly to competition and market trends. For agile innovation to be truly successful in your organization, it must become an integral part of your culture and practice. This article will show you how you can achieve that.

Why agile innovation is so important

The agile movement as we know is a complete 180-degree turn from traditional waterfall methodologies. The focus of agile methodologies is on swift response, incremental and iterative workflows, and empirical feedback. Projects are divided into short iterations called sprints, and work is accomplished rapidly and delivered as fully functional application components. Instead of waiting on a long process of analysis and feasibility studies to get started, agile methodologies rely on continuous feedback and improvement. This makes it faster and more effective than traditional methods.

This gives us a nice background to understand what agile innovation is. Here's an interesting take on it: "Agile innovation is inherently about adapting and thriving on a relentless and ongoing basis." That’s a powerful statement indeed. Being able to innovate quickly, economically and continuously is vital. What better way to achieve this speed of innovation than agile methodologies? Enabling rapid delivery in incremental stages greatly reduces the time to market. This is exactly what you need to always stay two steps ahead of the competition. 

Agile software innovation is, therefore, the best thing that can happen to your business. If you want this success to be sustainable, however, you will need to ensure that this spirit of agile innovation becomes part of your organization's culture. It must be ingrained into your processes, vision and employee mindset. Here is how you can ensure that.

How to create a culture of agile innovation

A change in the entire processes and culture of an organization is a tall order but definitely possible. Agile transformation coach Gerard Chiva lets us in on the secret of making this change possible: "Structure comes first; culture follows. The problem does not lie in people not being innovative or the organizational culture being bureaucratic; it lies in the structures, processes and systems in place that stifle innovation."

The secret, then, is to start at the core of the business and change the decision-making process and the way the business functions. Changing the mindset of organization leaders and enabling a complete decentralization through trust and self-organizing teams is key in creating a culture of agile innovation.

Before we see how we can implement this culture of agile innovation, it is important to remember that there will be challenges on the way. Lack of familiarity with agile methodologies, resistance to change and lack of adequate support from the organization's leaders are a few challenges. These challenges can be overcome with a few key considerations.

1. Start from the top.

Agile innovation must start at the highest level of the organization. Management must take the lead in innovation and spearhead the shift toward a more agile culture. Employees will only be motivated to implement innovation if the organization's leaders are committed to this direction. It is also important that management be actively involved in ensuring that this change permeates the entire organization. This will only happen if the leaders have a strong grasp on agile methodologies and practice it in their functions.

There is another important reason why management must be active participants in agile innovation. Self-organization, being the very philosophy of agile methodologies, could seem like a threat to the management. They could develop a fear of losing control, which in turn could create an atmosphere of distrust. This would be fatal to the goals of agile innovation. If they take the lead, however, it becomes a joint effort – active assistance instead of resistance.

2. Encourage experimentation and flexibility.

Agile principles have handed over to us a time-tested and foolproof methodology. However, this does not mean that there is only one way of doing things. The definition of "principles" in the Business Dictionary is "fundamental norms, rules, or values that represent what is desirable and positive for a person, group, organization, or community, and help it in determining the rightfulness or wrongfulness of its actions." In keeping with this definition, agile principles give you a basic foundation or structure for your business functions. This allows for a wide variety of ways these principles can be implemented in a business and across teams.

In keeping with the principles of innovation, agile practices must evolve. In practice, therefore, agile methodologies are best implemented when employees have the freedom to experiment with their work methods. Different methods may work for different teams and departments, and that's all right. The key is to use agile principles and ensure positive outcomes.

3. Focus on developing collective intelligence.

The importance of collective intelligence in a team has been brought out in numerous studies. This collective intelligence maximizes the effort of a team and brings out the best in team members. An article on collective intelligence brought out that this intelligence is not only the sum of all the intelligence of team members, but also the addition of their intelligence in relation to each other. In practice, this is evident when team members collectively come up with new ideas and concepts in addition to their individual thoughts.

This is where the Scrum Master's role is very important. As a process facilitator, a Scrum Master works with the team to develop and nurture their collective intelligence. Using metrics to gauge business outcomes and engagement levels will help the Scrum Master fine-tune and cultivate this collective intelligence in the team. 

Starting a culture of agile innovation now

An ideal agile organization will have a seamless agile architecture, where the speed of innovation within the teams matches the pace of the entire organization. This will ensure that decisions are made swiftly and the time to market is exponentially reduced, keeping you way ahead of the competition. Agile innovation is not the future; it's already here, and the time to start is right now. 

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Vinod Saratchandran
Vinod Saratchandran Member
Vinod has conceptualized and delivered niche mobility products that cater to various domains including logistics, media & non-profits. He leads, mentors & coaches a team of Project Coordinators & Analysts at Fingent.