In 2001, some of the best minds in the American tech industry convened in the mountains of Utah to solve the problem of having a methodology that could no longer keep pace with the incredible speed of technological innovation that was occurring around the world. Traditional ‘waterfall’ project management involved leaders coming up with ‘perfect’ and detailed plans, and cascading the deliverables down through the organisation, via layers of middle management to front-line teams. The corporates were finding that by the time their ideas were hitting the development stage they were either no longer relevant for the marketspace, or nimbler competitors had already jumped in and seized the initiative. They realised that the old frameworks resisted, rather than engaged with change, and were too rigid in an increasingly fickle and unpredictable digital age. When they landed on the idea that volatility and uncertainty needed to be embraced rather than resisted, the Agile Manifesto was born.
As organisations find themselves thrown into a level of uncertainty perhaps never experienced before, the principles of Agile have become even more relevant. The central idea is that rather than try to develop a perfect blueprint (which may or may not work), businesses should put together a workable plan, fast, and then test it with clients who will be willing to experiment, and give fast, honest feedback. Agile teams examine this feedback at the first opportunity, adapt their plan, and iterate forwards. The product of plan improves, perhaps incrementally, every time this ‘experiment’ takes place. Client feedback is the measurement of success; they will tell you, every time, whether the concept is working, and what needs to change.
Since Corona virus emerged we can see this philosophy in play in many areas of work; in how the NHS has increased front line capacity, in how businesses have repurposed to develop ventilators, et cetera, and (hopefully) in how the government is engaging with businesses to keep them going in the short term to enable longer term recovery. None of the plans are perfect, and nor should they be when speed is of the essence, but provided feedback is gathered and analysed, the quality of the solution will always improve.
At the moment it is incredibly difficult to predict what the economic and social landscape will look like in 3-6 months. What is certain is that our circumstances will change continuously and significantly for the foreseeable future. As businesses begin to rise to the challenge of remodelling, planning for a ‘perfect’ product will be costly, time consuming, and laden with risk. However, developing an early stage prototype (the minimum viable product) can significantly limit these negative factors. As our ‘early adopter’ clients engage with our idea, their feedback will help us to develop new business initiatives that we know are fit for purpose, rather than hope will be.
To thrive in this age of uncertainty, rather than trying to develop the perfect product or plan, consider the Agile approach as an alternative.