Have you ever felt that a great business opportunity passed by, just because you or your company was unable to react quickly enough? Or, that an organizational change is needed, but it will take months or years to complete? Yeah, me too. It is pretty common and totally makes sense. It is usually better to execute the change slower with a complete prep and buy-in, then fail in a nervous rush.
On the other hand, imagine a different organization. One, where people can change their current project or duties within hours – while being seamlessly replaced with no delay, uncertainty or anxiety. Think of a medieval swordsman with his slow swings, compared to a flawless fencer doing rapid lunges and instant retreats. Business, just like a fight, requires adjustments all the time. And just like in a fight, smaller players need to take advantage of their comparative advantages. For an agile fencer, engaging in new ideas is easier, but it is also safer to withdraw if something won’t work. So no matter how much your organization scales up – you should aim to keep as much of nimbleness and agility as possible.
So I tried
I’ve always loved bold and fresh projects. Looking for someone who will immediately dive deep in a very risky business? That’s me. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not the type of visionary person who is easily bored, but painstakingly polishing processes by doing it over and over is not my thing either. Thus I wanted to create a culture, where new ideas are treated not only with enthusiasm and warm welcome but are also executed well. An organization which will be able to adjust in no time. A place to go, when everybody else says “too risky” or “non-standard” or “it will take a lot of time”.
After these 4 years I’m able to say – we managed to do that. The team is able to shift rapidly, be interchangeable with no information loss, and still offer the same standard of service. Most importantly, this holds true even if the previous duties of the new person in charge were very much different.
We call it Extreme Agility, and these are its 7 most important pillars:
Embrace full transparency, and it will pay off. Keep your teammates and Team Leader in CC of mails with clients. Keep your data clean and always up to date. Send regular project updates both to the client and the team. There should be no key phone calls without a written summary. No emails with no one else in CC, no private Slack Channels with clients only. It is not about control, it is about keeping crucial constant access to the data at all times by many, which can be used if you hand over the project or just get sick.
Every project, process and idea should be planned from the very beginning with something in mind. What I mean is, a clear understanding of how it could eventually be passed to another person. And throughout the project it is very important to keep in mind that you may want to delegate it with no unreasonable delay. Add at least one more person to the project, who will be up to date with every information. One of the most important duties of a leader/manager is to train new leaders as soon as possible. I am not flippant at all when I ask my clients, what exactly they think would happen, if one day going to work they were hit by a car. How well would your teams and projects recover? Would they know how?
Exchanging knowledge should be an obligatory and natural process. Edu-lunches, constant feedback culture, sharing success stories, lessons learned, regular retrospectives (STAR, SHIP, 5x WHY) we introduced all of the above. It is very important to provide opportunities to grow for individuals. But it is also crucial to make sure that an organization is growing equally and no one is left behind. Extreme Agility cannot equal not knowing enough stuff.
I consider collaboration to be one of the most important professional duties of my coworkers and myself. Collaboration is the great enabler of Extreme Agility, as it is critical for teammates to understand each other, work and keep on improving processes together. More often than not, different people in a team are doing the same process in a slightly different way. This is something you want to avoid.
As Andy Grove said in the High Management Output, Manager’s job is to constantly standardize a job. It is an attitude derived from manufacturing but is equally important in the service industry. Key processes in the company should be super clear and identical to everybody. While minor adjustments are of course allowed, there should be no “What should I do now?” while entering a new project. When the process is split into specific stages, it is super clear where you are and what is the next step.
Project Management Skills
In my opinion, this is the most crucial skill set for every team member. It doesn’t matter what the task is. Nothing facilitates progress faster than dividing a problem into smaller steps, organizing resulting tasks, planning a roadmap and structuring the challenge in a build-measure-learn loop.
Recruit for growth, not competencies.
If you know, that the role of the recruited person will change, either slightly or significantly, do not focus on straight-up competencies. Instead, focus on proven ability and predispositions to grow instead. It may occur, that things which are important today may be totally irrelevant in several months. But if a candidate is eager to learn, shows a consistent pattern of personal growth, and has an ability to execute effectively, don’t overthink it!
What form does agility take in your organization, and where is it still lacking? If you want to discuss our story, concepts and maybe ask pointed questions – I’m right here 🙂