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Over the past two decades, agile process management has evolved from an approach used to develop software more quickly to a way of managing work that applies across entire businesses to help them innovate and adapt, overcome inertia, and achieve continuous improvement. When executed well, agile working practices can bring value creation to the forefront of your company's mission and even unite workers around motivation and purpose. But to deliver those benefits, senior leaders' mindsets and behaviors must change. This week we offer you a primer on agile, how it can prepare your organization for the future, and how it can serve as one of your biggest leadership enablers.
Map an agile organization at scale
Agile methodologies have been a hot topic for a while, and the COVID-19 pandemic has really lit a fire around them. Companies that hadn't made significant strides toward agile were swiftly and strongly forced to do so. As transformation—digital and otherwise—becomes the postpandemic norm, organizations are extending agile to core processes such as budgeting or setting career paths. But how to move from targeted experimentation to agile at scale? One way is to develop your people through agile capability building—empowering them to test and learn, collaborate, and make decisions at speed. Ways to scale and institutionalize these skills include setting up learning communities and inspiring people to shift from reactive to creative mindsets. Leaders can then begin to rewire the organization to create an agile operating model to develop enterprise agility beyond the individual and team levels. Agility coaches can also play an important role as change agents, but lasting change starts with clear aspirations from leaders and a willingness to course correct as you go.
A big number exhibit
That's the percentage increase in financial performance that companies can gain by successfully implementing enterprise agility (with most gaining at least 20 percent), according to McKinsey research across sectors. This boost stems from improvements in operational performance, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement—a trifecta, or “agile impact engine,” that proves the buzz around agile also comes with a clear benefit to the bottom line.
“That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes.”
These words from historian Yuval Noah have been particularly prescient over the past year. In many ways, the COVID-19 crisis has sped up—often out of necessity—big changes that companies couldn't have foreseen. Executives have taken advantage of this “malleable moment” to reinvent the way they do business and to implement swifter, agile operating models for the next normal. Those who don't lean into the moment risk falling behind, so follow this simple process: reflect, decide, and deploy at scale. Make culture count by monitoring behavioral change and learning from successes and failures.
person walking under clocks
Agile's contribution to performance doesn't stop at the bottom line. In a recent episode of The McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey senior partners Sherina Ebrahim and Shail Thaker describe how agile processes at their core rely on team-based working practices. People in agile organizations aren't driven by their functions but rather are “incented on the purpose, the mission, which is very clearly tied to the value creation of the company,” Ebrahim says. “That changes the entire mindset and behaviors of the people.” That feeling can also empower your team and provide clarity around roles and expectations, leading to happier employees.
person at a zoom meeting
Developing and managing agile teams can be complicated in a remote environment. In-person interactions allow teams to thrive by building trust, enabling fast-paced problem solving and decision making, and eliminating inefficiencies. Despite these roadblocks, there are ways to virtually mimic the same practices an agile team would use in the office. Try virtual whiteboards, videoconferencing tools that promote participation, and other avenues for impromptu and asynchronous communication and collaboration.
Lead with agility.
— Edited by Dana Sand, an editorial production manager in McKinsey's Atlanta office
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