Agile is a proven framework in the world of development. The agile process helps development teams provide rapid responses and feedback to their projects, and it opens up opportunities to assess the project’s direction in the middle of the development cycle. Development teams benefit from this instant feedback during regular project meetings (often called sprints), where change is identified and incorporated in real-time.
Naturally, this mindset has crept into overall business culture, with teams and leadership wanting to see faster results in all aspects of the business. When competition is ramping up and a team or company feels vulnerable, it is easy to jump on a bandwagon of, “We need to be more nimble/agile to win.” This can be absolutely true. However, over the years, as we’ve worked with various companies and teams, Corporate Path Leadership has found that many confuse the notion of being nimble as a free pass to avoid taking the time to be clear in communication and direction.
“An unorganized leader cannot be agile.”-- Ken Giffin
Let’s use marketing and creative strategy as an easy example.
The Challenge: Senior Leadership does not think a current brand is appropriately leveraging the company’s best differentiators in collateral, web content, case studies, etc.
The Unorganized Leader’s Fix: The marketing leader in charge of brand and content decides to quickly pull together the marketing team members and agencies they work with to talk about how to change the website and collateral within the next 30 days. This is done in an hour-long meeting and actions are assigned for different groups to be creative and come up with new content, logo and tagline ideas in the next week. Sounds agile, right?
But a week later, the assembly of ideas looks like a mess. There is no cohesive thread between the groups working on the different action items, and there is a wide variety in interpretation of what the new direction should be. This stressful get together leads to a blanket statement for everyone to “think edgy” and use that as a unifier to come back in one week with better ideas.
One week later, there is no clearer sign of progress. Only frustration that everyone is working so hard, and all of their work seems to be disposable. Combine that with frustration from the leader that the team appears to be incompetent, and the cycle just repeats, or a rushed decision on content and direction is made to get out of it.
So how do you fix this vicious cycle? An organized leader takes this approach:
Step #1: Slow down and provide clear direction and parameters for what needs to be done
The leader is ultimately on the hook for providing clear direction. However, team members need to also be able to resist the allure of going fast, and instead say work can’t start until there is clarity in what needs to be done and what success will look like.
In the marketing content example above, a full week should be taken to brainstorm and identify the new direction. The marketing leader should check in multiple times to make sure the team is clear on their role in this. It’s paramount that no headlines, logos, web or other content should be changed at this point. We call this “defining your sandbox.”
Step #2: Truly use the value of agile approach to incorporate feedback and change into the development process
In the remaining weeks, regular check ins, (maybe every other day for 30 minutes), will help to show slow, steady progress and ensure the team understands the direction identified in week one, and is on track. These check ins also provide instant feedback. This feedback can confirm the direction is good, or be used to modify the approach, messaging, etc., or to change course before too much time is spent going in the wrong direction.
Step #3: Team members should be nimble — not just agile in general
Throughout the agile process it’s important for the team to be able to incorporate feedback repeatedly, in an iterative approach. The key is to not just move quickly through the process, but instead to use their expertise to rapidly create an improved outcome with each iteration until the optimal goal is reached.
The lesson here is that agile methodology is extremely valuable and can be applied in settings beyond development. Just don’t use that term as an excuse for running fast and without a plan.
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