A Publication of WTVP

I am sure you’ve never heard the old saying that “the only thing constant in business is change,” have you? No, I didn’t think so…

But how are you dealing with change? What management styles do you possess? Are you stable and traditional, like a “waterfall?” Or are you adaptive and entrepreneurial, like a professional water skier?

In the world of project management, there are traditional, steadfast methods of approaching business problems; these approaches are often called “waterfall” methodologies. They are steady and consistent. They are resistant to change. They are planned out in detail. And they are architected—perhaps, even, to a fault. Waterfall methods work well for business problems that are constant and repeatable. Is your business that constant and that repeatable? What about your business management style or philosophy?

The “waterfall” management category is steady, traditional and primarily process-focused. Most of the management effort is focused on the process and its repeatability—without regard to the latest information and trends. This style is not very adaptable, and these businesses suffer from the proverbial analogy of trying to “turn around the Titanic.” It takes a long time to change…too long.

Business size does not matter in this analogy. It’s the management approach and philosophy that enables these problems to exist. Resources and management time are constrained. Decisions must flow through one central management point or prescribed hierarchy—and are put off. The status quo propagates without specifically being directed. These organizations suffer from control issues—not from retaining too much control, but by not giving up enough control of decision making. So, the water just keeps falling downhill. Perhaps this is your organization?

Agile management is a very different approach. Agile builds upon solid traditional concepts (like the “waterfall”), but it allows for iterative decision making to deal with constant changes. It provides for collaboration points between self-forming teams, those that are created without management directive to solve issues, address changing requirements and ensure that correct business decisions are made in a timely fashion. These decisions are based on the latest information by those closest to the situation. Agile incorporates the entrepreneurial spirit to make things happen. It enables and demands agility to be quick and light on the foot. Agile is all about being nimble.

Your business doesn’t change much, does it? What is stable in your business? Has anything been stable in your business the past two years? You and your business have been influenced by many things, including: the economy, healthcare costs, tax implications, environmental concerns or perhaps new capital funding requirements. There have been many changes and concerns for you to deal with—that’s for sure. And, today, each of these issues requires even greater dexterity in dealing with your people, customers and business than it did yesterday. Planning is certainly important, but do not go over the edge in your “waterfall” planning. Do not over-plan—provide a framework and respond to stimulus.

Agile concepts are key—no, actually required—to implement into your business. Agile provides for iterative solutions and developments to a constantly changing environment and requirements. How? It does this by enabling collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams, allowing for solutions to evolve rapidly. It’s a lightweight approach to moving the business forward.

Agile management concepts focus on customer satisfaction, a changing environment and “making things work.” Agile management creates sustainability, forces cooperation and prefers face-to-face interactions over texting and emailing in an electronic world. Agile management focuses continuous attention on quality, simplicity and adaptability. Employees are empowered to organize self-directed teams to constantly adapt to changing requirements and make the business work. Agile is adaptive and reacts to changing realities, unlike waterfall management, which is predictive and unable to change directions swiftly.

“Agile is just a way to deal with change and the unknown by shortening the feedback loop, increasing communication and collaboration,” noted Heiko Peters in an August 2010 PM Network article. Businesses need to be agile and keep innovation high. How can I create agility? Create innovation teams to perform research and development projects, and focus these teams on areas where a return on investment may be hard to quantify for a specific business unit but can be shared across multiple product sets. Perhaps I need some examples on where to apply innovation. How about mobile application development, security, marketing or Web 2.0 concepts? What if I am unsure where to look in my organization for innovation opportunities? I would suggest looking for the collaborative groups. Find the collaborative groups that need tools to be more effective. Look there for innovation. Be disruptive! Be innovative! Be agile!

Agile project management is all about delivering projects in a flexible and interactive fashion. Applying agile management concepts to your business is about responding to change and enabling your organization to do so effectively. What are you enabling within your business? Are you enabling “the waterfall” or promoting “agility?” How can you be sure?

The waterfall approach is consistent and steady; it will always flow downhill and towards your plan, for better or for worse. Water seeks its level and the lowest point to find its balance. But to make a big splash with your customers, people and business—get agile! In a turbo-charged world running at warp speed, the image of a water skier managing the wakes with a steady watch over changing current conditions in the water conjures up the image I believe you want to have in your business. If you are not riding the waves and responding to current conditions, perhaps your competitors are. Let me know your thoughts via Twitter at iBi