What’s all the fuss about Agile business? - and what is Agile anyway?


agile (adjective) [i]
1.     quick and well-coordinated in movement; lithe:
2.     active; lively:
3.     marked by an ability to think quickly; mentally acute or aware:

Lean, efficient, agile – these are all buzzwords that have been scatter-gunned all over the business landscape in the last few years as organisations embark on their mission to being more innovative, customer-centric and ultimately more profitable.

I’ve witnessed and participated in heated debates over what’s agile and what’s not, and shrieking voices screaming: ‘THIS ISN’T AGILE!’  I’ve seen the frustration on faces as people discuss approaches to agile working – but the truth is that Agile is a set of principles that your organisation can use to adapt and improve its ways of working and processes. Being an agile business is in fact largely dependent on your collective state of mind - not a rigid process.

“Agile provides a new approach to delivering success in todays working environments, addressing growth issues. Agile is agile in its own right and is evolving and flexingcontinually to meet changing needs and improve its performance as a management tool”
- Belinda Waldock; 2015


Adopting agile principles will make your business more profitable, and ultimately more competitive

 “Agile businesses generate 30% more profit and grow 37% faster than low agility companies” Project Management Institute ; 2012

Why? The simplified answer is that the agile business recognises that change is inevitable; and that as a business we have a clear choice to make; to embrace it - or to let it dictate us. An agile business takes the ‘embrace’ pill, and as a result of that; listens intently to its surroundings, anticipates potential evolution, allows time and resource for deviation to ‘the plan’, and utilises its people, time and skills effectively to create value for its customers that aligns with the constantly changing environment in which they operate.

The agile business is ready for almost anything.

“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
- Darwin, Origin of Species [ii]

Agile was built upon the foundations laid out by a system named KANBAN – developed in Japan by Toyota’s Vice President in the 1970’s for their production line. The system was built around two major features:

1.     Just-in-time production

Only the necessary products, at the necessary time, in the necessary quantity are manufactured - and in addition, the stock on hand is held down to a minimum.

2.     Respect-for-human

Workers are allowed to display in full their capabilities through active participation in running and improving their own workshops.

The systems that the production line adopted were ultimately responsible for Toyota’s success in the automotive industry, and it is therefore no surprise that nearly 50 years later, those principles still stand for organisations today.

You can find the full report and methodology here.

The agile business checklist

Now it’s time for some self-assessment. Many businesses claim to be agile, but are they just talking the talk?

The following are characteristics of an agile business:

  • Accurate – decisions driven by facts and data
  • Efficient – maximum productivity, with minimum wasted resources
  • Lean – continuous evaluation and improvement of processes
  • Fast – keep up with the trends and eliminate bottle-necks
  • Balanced – understanding others needs and focusing on value-adding activities
  • Flexible – willing and able to adapt processes for the best outcome
  • Aware – understanding of the external and internal business environment

- Adapted: Belinda Waldock; Being Agile in Business; 2015

The Agile Manifesto: not just for software developers

The ‘Agile Manifesto[iii] was written in February of 2001, at a summit of seventeen independent-minded practitioners of several programming methodologies.

Although the manifesto was originated as a manifesto take the place of linear software development processes such as the Waterfall Method, the principles can be translated and applied to any business. At Palladium, where we deliver business transformation through the intelligent use of technology, ‘working software’ in the original text becomes a ‘product or solution’ - where ultimately the success of the outcome produced is directly aligned to the fulfilment of customer needs and requirements.

Whilst reading the manifesto, note that in order to gain the true benefit of agile methodologies, understanding both the manifesto and the mindset required from each of it’s parts is key.

The principles:
Note: the principles have been adapted to align with product / service providers as opposed to software development
      I. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable products and/or services
     II. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for our customer’s competitive advantage - and the delight of the end user.
   III. Deliver working solutions frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
   IV. Delivery teams must work with the customer daily throughout the project.
    V. Build teams around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
   VI. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
 VII. Delivered, working solutions are the primary measure of progress.
VIII. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
   IX. Continuous attention to excellence and good design enhances agility.
    X. Simplicity--the art of maximising the amount of work not done--is essential.
   XI. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams
 XII. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

Top tips for agile business leaders

  1. Embrace learning and collaboration between teams and departments
    – trust your colleagues in their knowledge and skill-set and avoid duplication of efforts
  2. When collaborating, frequently release updates and new thinking
    - iron out issues and concerns continuously and evaluate the direction of travel in relation to your goals
  3. Foster innovation by empowering your workforce and eliminating fear of failure
    - actively encourage your employees to work on fresh ideas inside self-organising teams. Encourage testing and learning from feedback / evaluation
  4.  Have a clear purpose and outcome for every piece of communication, every meeting, and every piece of work
  5. Continuously listen to your surroundings and adapt accordingly
    - treat market trends, technological evolution, consumer behavior and social conversation as members of your team
  6. Allow slack (left over time) for new thinking, improvement and re-work
    - not all aspects of business can be predicted, so allowing room for the unpredictable twists and turns as well as consolidating learnings and improving your approach is essential
  7. Value working solutions and processes over endless box-ticking
    - keeping to a time-frame is important, but creating outputs that work is far more valuable. Adopt a ‘how can we make this better’ attitude.
  8. Think like a small business, prioritising productivity and eliminating waste
    - if something adds value to your business or your customers, invest your resources in it – and if it doesn’t – don’t
  9. Ensure that the Agile culture is shared throughout the organisation
    - unless everyone is in alignment with the value that Agile can facilitate, as those who do not share the understanding will only become a bottleneck

Bringing the Agile manifesto to life with technology

For small businesses, being agile may seem like second nature. For larger, more fragmented organisations, being agile becomes increasingly challenging due to geography, compliance regulations, and impact on communication and culture – let alone core processes.

To overcome the challenges that collaborating effectively cross-location present, many companies (over 2,000, according to TechTarget[iv]) have opted to integrate modern technology into their core processes so as to enable effective collaboration and knowledge-sharing between their teams, departments and regions.

"You have to treat Agile transformation as a change management process," – Robert Holler, CEO of Agile project management tools vendor VersionOne Inc.

Organisations must ensure that they choose a tool that satisfies the nature of their work and their direction of travel. Enterprise technologies offer a range of features to enhance organisations ways of working – from communications tools (e.g. video conferencing, instant chat) and simple cloud-based file sharing software, to full scale Enterprise Social Networks (ESN’s) – all of which aim to connect the elements of the business seamlessly according to their need.

So, what is all the fuss about?

Adopting Agile principles throughout the organisation will enable management teams and employees alike to seek out more efficient, value-driven ways of working. By focusing on innovation through continuous improvement and flexibility, utilising the wealth of knowledge and skills of your workforce collectively; the products and / or services you provide will satisfy the end-user to a higher degree. In a world where consumers have an increasing amount of choice, and enjoy broadcasting their opinions over Social Media; creating working solutions is vital and will make you more competitive – and because you eliminate waste – generate more profit.  

stay tuned for part two

Next, we will be looking  at some of the challenges that organisations face as they adapt to agile ways of working - and ways to overcome them

At Palladium, we work with organisations to understand their surrounding market, and construct a strategy that will achieve their growth ambitions. We deliver working solutions and processes, working with programme teams to adapt to the changing environment and implement the tools required to make those ideas a reality.

For more information on adopting agile ways of working inside your business, contact Palladium Digital: +44(0)203 286 7558 / e-mail enquiries@palladiumdigital.co.uk


[i] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agile

[ii] This quote was originally by Darwin, but is referenced by Megginson, ‘Lessons from Europe for American Business’, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1963)

[iii] http://www.agilealliance.org/the-alliance/the-agile-manifesto/

[iv] http://searchsoftwarequality.techtarget.com/feature/Implementing-Agile-in-very-large-enterprises

Further reading

Y. SUGIMORI , K. KUSUNOKI , F. CHO & S. UCHIKAWA (1977) Toyota production system and Kanban system Materialization of just-in-time and respectfor-human system, International Journal of Production Research, 15:6, 553-564, DOI: 10.1080/00207547708943149


This article was co-authored by Imogen Wakerley and Mark Lewis of Palladium, a digital transformation consultancy; providing support to clients across digital strategy and insight, product and service design and digital capability development.