A few years ago I met with a consultant specialising in business organisation issues. He told me the following about agility: “The key is not if all companies are going to work with agile methodologies, the key is when”.

A few years ago I met with a consultant specialising in business organisation issues. He told me the following about agility: “The key is not whether all companies will work with agile methodologies, the key is when”. This consultant considered that this way of working is superior to traditional hierarchical organisational models and that all companies will adopt them. I certainly agree.

Agile methodology originated in groups of software developers. It was born from the famous agile manifesto, published in 2001 and signed by 17 people in the United States concerned with improving the management of system development processes.

As we have already said, the methodology is a form of organisation and business culture that seeks teams and ways of working with the following characteristics:

What does this mean? That the area has the autonomy to manage and change a whole process from start to finish. This is complicated in practice, because most of the time there are interactions with other areas of the company or with external companies. But ideally there should be a team that is made up of all the people whose role is primarily to work on this process. For this reason it is usual for agile teams or cells to have people with different profiles and coming from different areas of the company.

This follows on from the previous point, as we want the team to be responsible from end to end for developing a process. Today – and increasingly – all companies are software organisations. Or, if we don’t want to be so radical, software is fundamental to the differentiation of companies. As Marc Andressen explained in his famous article in 2011: “Software is eating the world”. Today in chain stores, banks, airlines and hotels, among others, the ability to have online channels and processes is critical to success. This poses a challenge in large and complex companies, as it is necessary to have decoupled systems that allow developments to be made in each agile team.The work of the cells is divided into “sprints”.These typically last a couple of weeks and have a single, clearly defined objective. All the work to be done by a team is written down in a backlog. This backlog is prioritised and the cell works during the sprint time only on this item. The goal for the end of the sprint is to have successfully completed that item.

This follows on from the previous point, but I want to emphasise it. It is key to work only on the defined item, because context switching is costly. Jeff Sutherland explains it in his book “Scrum”. When a team works on a single item there is no time wasted by context switching. This is not the case when working on several projects at the same time and waste is generated. For example, when managing three items, the time spent on each item is around 20%, i.e. the team wastes 40% of its time on context switches.We all experience this when we are doing one task and decide to switch to another. While we are getting used to this new task there is a loss of time that we would not have had if there had been no change. This is why agility promotes working in series and not in parallel.

There are daily team meetings at the start of the day where we quickly review what each person did the day before, if they had any difficulties or impediments, and what they are going to do during the day. At the end of each sprint there is a retrospective meeting, where they reflect on how the team could do better in the next sprint and agree on the changes they will consider to make the team perform better. This learning cycle is an adopted element of lean manufacturing methods and is key to agility.

Agility aims to make companies able to respond more quickly to customer needs, achieve more horizontal structures and contribute to more motivated teams who feel they have the tools to do their job. If in your company or in your area this is not yet the way of working, it will be soon, as the consultant told me a few years ago.

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