Written by Robin Scarborough, partner and London managing director of proposition design consultancy, Market Gravity.

 Big business leaders like to talk the talk on disruption, innovation and agile working. But following the alleged rules of agile will no more transform a business by itself than waterfall will. However, by adopting the mindset of agile, companies will reap the benefits. 

Agile working brings a new approach to solving business challenges and is a step change from traditional ways of operating. Adopting agile working practices means empowering employees to choose, within a framework, how they work as they travel along the mission path to reach the goals set for them.

It’s important to set a clear mission for each project and choose a team – a squad – that will be charged with achieving that mission within a certain timeframe and within set constraints. The team will have a high degree of freedom (agility) with the choices they make within the mission. They can make quick decisions and flex the process as much as they need to in order to achieve it.  

The concept of agile working is a mind-set; a culture rather than just a process – although the path to achieving any mission or goal is, of course, a process in itself. However, it should not be constrained to technology, but should be used as a force for rapid change across all parts of the business.

The three key areas to focus on: proposition sprints; building a mission culture that focuses on delivery rather than process; and finding rapid ways to go live which enables companies to learn and pivot (where needed) before they build and scale.

Proposition sprints enable companies to go from an idea to a launch that’s live in customers’ hands in days and weeks, rather than months. Let’s say you have five tasks to complete within a two-week deadline. Instead of stretching out the work, you complete them within a week. So, in just five days, you move from idea to prototype to decision, saving your team unnecessary work and cost, while allowing them to express their creativity and ideas.

Alongside the sprint technique, organisations need to pursue a mission, not set a scope. They need to adopt a ‘mission culture’, which focuses on empowering people to make decisions and organises people around a business challenge, with a constraint that’s time-boxed. This group of people takes on the mission mindset. They aren’t just a team, they’re a squad whose mission it is to deliver the sprint and build a new venture, not stick to day-today job roles. The mission mindset enables expedited decisions, not long committee-led debates. Culture should be at the heart of any company’s transformational change. It is people who deliver change, not processes. Companies that fail to adopt agile or that aren’t acting in an agile way usually have an ingrained culture of thinking too long and launching too late.

Mission culture is already driving change and real innovation within the new breed of challenger brands in the financial services market such as Standard Life and Clydesdale Yorkshire Banking Group.

At Market Gravity, we have been using this sprint technique with our clients. It has transformed the way we deliver projects for them, the way they develop new products and services, and how they reinvent customer experiences. Because the approach is so new for many big businesses, it takes a while to feel comfortable with but many of our clients have embraced it and can see the positive impact it’s having on their business – from culture to impact in market. 

Stephen Ingledew, managing director of marketing at Standard Life, is also a fan of agile working.  “We apply agile ways of working to our ‘business as usual’ marketing activities as it enables us to be customer and data-driven and therefore responsive to needs. We have been particularly applying agile to how we use technology in marketing.” he says.

“We believe all employees have the ability to work in an agile way and this is key in developing cross functional, co-located teams who are focused on a common purpose. However, this does require an employee mindset of wanting to co-create with a design and data-led approach.

“Agile is becoming more prominent in organisations that want to be customer-led and leverage new technologies to improve customer engagement and employee productivity, both of which contribute to the sustainable commercial success of the business.

“We have worked with companies such as Market Gravity to bring agile working methods to our operations and it has helped us implement customer experience improvements and develop completely new revenue streams.” he added.

For many companies the main barriers to agile working revolve around culture and mindset. Investing in new workspaces, training workforces on the tools and buying the latest technology are simply not enough. Managers need to engage with their workforce and empower them in a relationship of responsibility and trust. This involves a massive change in organisational culture and individual mindset but will ultimately see organisations reap major benefits in this new way of working.