Agile as a methodology has been around for a good while. It evolved from the Lean Manufacturing systems pioneered by manufacturers like Toyota, and was adapted and embraced by the software development industry.
Today, “agile” is a concept that has filtered into all forms of business and project management.
Small businesses have a lot to gain by employing basic agile methodologies. But what does this involve?
What is agile?
Agile focuses on putting the customer first, by being responsive and adaptable.
The key principles of an agile approach can be summarised as follows:
- individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- working products over comprehensive documentation
- customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- responding to change over following a plan.
Put differently, being agile is about leveraging relationships, focusing on what’s truly useful and continually adapting, based on what your customers want.
Why agile suits small businesses best
Agile suits small businesses well because of its focus on being customer-centric and adaptable.
Larger companies generally find it more difficult to implement agile methods. Like the Titanic, they can’t “turn” – or adapt – as fast to suit customers’ demands or changes in circumstances. Often, their ways of doing things have become entrenched. Their services or products may also be more complex, and they don’t generally have personal relationships with their customers.
Small businesses can adapt much more easily, based on what their customers expect. Agile methodologies are also largely designed with small teams of people in mind, because they rely on daily interaction and feedback.
How to implement Agile
You can help your business be more agile by making a few key changes, and by adopting an agile “mindset” – a focus on efficiency, responsiveness and flexibility.
More customer interaction
Many smaller businesses have the advantage of being able to interact directly with their customers, in person and via social media. This enables them to get direct, frequent feedback on their projects, services or products.
You can make your business more agile by continually monitoring your customers’ responses and being ready to act on their feedback, incorporating changes to your business based on what customers want. This can help give you a competitive advantage.
Meetings are essential for ensuring everyone in a business pulls together – but they can waste a lot of time. To be Agile, keep meetings short, highly focused and productive.
Many Agile approaches call for meeting participants to stand during meetings, to help keep them quick. This type of meeting is often referred to as a “scrum” or “daily stand-up”.
Instead of weekly meetings, have super-fast daily meetings where each person gives a quick update of their progress (where they are and what they’re moving onto next) and identifies any roadblocks, or help they need.
Handle longer discussions that don’t involve everyone in other ways, for example by email or Skype.
Open and constant communication is a key aspect of Agile. It prevents duplication of efforts, wasted work and delays in response.
Ideally, everyone in your team should communicate daily, and relevant feedback or changes should be communicated clearly and straight away.
Also aim to communicate as regularly as possible with your customers, business partners, suppliers and any other stakeholders.
Eliminate clutter, complexity and unnecessary costs
Small businesses often make the mistake of using services and buying equipment they don’t need, simply because other, bigger businesses do the same. This can extend from leasing unnecessarily large offices to having a top-of-the-range printer, to signing up for online services that your company doesn’t really require.
Lean proponents would refer to these elements as a form of waste. Anything is “waste” if it doesn’t generate value for your business and your customers.
Instead, manage costs by being clear-headed and focusing only on what’s important. Aim to eliminate all forms of clutter and unnecessary complexity. This principle is at the heart of being agile.
Focus on local
If you have a local business, with a localised customer base, embrace this. Focus your advertising on local customers and market yourself as a smaller brand that is genuinely offering good service.
Small businesses don’t have to compete with big businesses if they can market themselves as the local choice with better one-on-one service and more reasonable prices.
How The Workspace can help with agility
Instead of renting large, expensive premises, committing to a long lease and having to cover office setup costs, you can move into a serviced office at The Workspace on flexible terms, with an agreement for three, six or 12 months.
Alternatively, for the ultimate flexibility, pay as you go on a monthly basis for our affordable coworking.
As part of the agreement, you’ll have access to meeting rooms, high-speed internet, equipment like printers, a range of onsite business services (including full reception), and more – everything you need to run your business, without the costs or risk involved in setting up a traditional office. We also offer valuable extras, such as networking events, which are free for members.