New, presumably more innovative, effective, market-responsive and profitable business practices are like the tides—they arrive with a big splash and quietly recede after a while. Who remembers Management By Objectives? Are any of you Six Sigma certified? Has anyone worked for or with a company that launched a successful disruptive technology or service? The Next Big Thing is Agile, which arrived in the early 2000s, born in the software development sector.
What is agile? Agile is the ability of an organization to successfully respond to change:
- Smart and quick when adapting to shifting business conditions
- Timely response to evolving customer preferences
- Create and maintain competitive advanges
Experience shows me that agile business practices are a natural for Freelance consultants and small business owners because that is how we can thrive and grow our client lists and revenues. We must adapt to the continually changing priorities and concerns of our clients, as well as local and national business conditions. Should our revenues dip for three or more quarters, for example, we must be willing to re-think and possibly re-calibrate the products and services that we provide and how we package and sell them, that is, once we’ve figured out what those adjustments should be. We need to create or identify as many competitive advantages as possible and use them to build customer loyalty, revenues and profits.
Business experts claim that agile is best suited to innovation—the development of products, services, business processes and business models. IT departments were the original home of the agile philosophy, but the practice is expanding into marketing, product development and even project management. Agile organizations support achieving the best outcomes and they agree that innovation happens from the ground up. Agile is the opposite of top-down management.
Agile practices are carried out by teams that are typically small and multidisciplinary, to enable creativity and efficiency. Teams approach large or complex problems or projects by breaking the task down into manageable components. Team members study the case at hand, next develop and test solutions for each component and finally integrate the solutions into the project as a whole. Agile teams are accountable for outcomes: profitability, growth and market share, for example.
Organizations that promote agile teams put them into motion when a project or challenge is complex, solutions seem unclear and the team is able to collaborate with the client or end-user of the product or service. Does that describe the situation of every Freelance consultant and small business owner, or what? We were born to be agile. We can now think about where and how to use our already agile skills and learn how to consciously incorporate the practice into our business.
The agile philosophy directs us to survey and assess our business goals and choose what will best respond—product/ service development (or tweaking what is currently offered), marketing, the business model and technology can be considered for your entrée into agile. Next, develop your goals and list of desired outcomes. For example, are you looking to attract certain clients to the business (big-ticket, for example)? Are you wondering if you should adjust your business model to better respond to shifting client preferences? Or has a new technology impacted the way your clients can engage with or do business with you but you wonder if the investment will likely deliver a good ROI?
Whatever you decide to pursue, once you choose a challenge to tackle, break it down into components and study each segment. If it’s your business model that’s going under the microscope, agile will guide you as you examine the aspects of what makes a successful business model and help you avoid becoming overwhelmed with the size of the project or frightened by what is at stake.
With agile, you can look at the moving parts, basically turn them upside down and shake them and rationally hypothesize about what, if anything, you can do to tweak the money-making engine of your venture. What can you do about your products and services? Is your sales strategy helping or hindering sales? Should you take on the expense of accepting credit cards to stimulate big-ticket sales? Small business owners who have employees can perhaps involve certain of their staff to weigh in on these matters, whether they have front-line customer involvement or back office operations experience.
With agile, you and your team can propose incremental improvements, test them in combat and incorporate what is successful. The small successes will encourage you to move forward in your problem-solving and eventually you will achieve larger and more impactful outcomes and goals.
Agile practices lead to greater efficiency and productivity and allow your organization to be more responsive to client needs. Agile will show you the way, step by step. It has great potential to deliver measurable improvements to your business, especially when you’re not sure what will work.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who founded the Iyengar yoga technique in the 1970s (photo date unknown)