Every Freelancer Is Agile

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,

Kim

Photograph: Guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who founded the Iyengar yoga technique in the 1970s (photo date unknown)

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Becoming Agile

Agile innovation first swept through the information technology sector and greatly increased success rates in software development, improved quality and speed to market. Agile management techniques are now spreading to many other industries and Freelance consultants ought to be aware of what is involved, both as regards the ways our clients and prospects may buy into agile practices and how we might incorporate certain aspects into our own consultancies.

More than in the recent past, business ventures large and small operate in a highly dynamic environments.  Customer priorities and technological advancements are known to change rapidly.  Keeping a finger on the pulse of new developments and innovating or adapting  as necessary  the line of products and services offered,  marketing buzz words used in marketing content, sales strategies employed or distribution channels utilized are how organizations thrive and grow.  But what does agile mean in practice?

Agile does not mean doing the usual thing, only faster. Darrell Rigby, a partner at Bain & Company consulting and Hirotaka Takeuchi, professor of strategy at the Harvard Business School and CEO of Scrum, Inc., a consulting and training firm, describe agile business practices as containing the following elements:

Scrum. Creative and adaptive teamwork that solves complex problems.

Lean development.  Focuses on the continual elimination of waste.

Kanban.  Focuses on reducing lead times and the amount of time to complete a process.

Along with IT,  agile management practices are particularly well-suited to strategic planning activities, marketing projects, resource allocation decisions and supply chain challenges.  Sales and accounting, for example, are not a natural fit for agile, according to experienced practitioners. In sum, agile works best where complex problems can be broken down into modules and assigned to specific teams.

When solutions to the problem are unknown, product specifications could be subject to change, the scope of the work to be done is not precisely known, cross-functional collaboration is presumed to be vital and time to market is sensitive are the ideal conditions in which to apply agile innovation or methods.

For independent Freelance consultants and small business owners agile will have a different meaning, but it may be useful nonetheless.  Small business owners can surely incorporate agile methods into their organizations and see improved functioning.  Freelancers may be more apt to use agile as a marketing buzz word that communicates to clients and prospects that we are on the cutting edge of forward-thinking business practices and in tune with their priorities.  Freelancers who are themselves agile will be trustworthy external talent who bring ROI to organizations for whom we work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Freelancers: Agile Talent For Your Organization

While cruising through the Harvard Business Review online http://hbr.org, I happened upon an article that told of a most interesting book that has good information for Freelance consultants and those who hire us.  Agile Talent was written by two experts in the talent development, leadership and strategic HR fields,  Jon Younger and Norm Smallwood and published just last month.

The book was written as a guide for the growing number of organizations that rely on professionals like us to come through in the clutch and get the job done,  on time and within budget.  Getting the most out of a team comprised of internal and external talent is the book’s theme.  I read an excerpt and confirmed that within,  the book contains as well a few pearls of wisdom for you and me,  primarily providing us with a new and improved way to package and promote our services to potential clients.

As Smallwood and Younger point out, so many organizations–for-profit and not-for-profit, late-stage and start-up, large and small–continue to rely on Freelance consultants to augment their lean workforces when insufficient expertise (or time) exists in-house.  Salaries are a large fixed expense on Income Statements and organizations for 30 years have been loathe to hire a worker unless the skill set is frequently needed to keep the business operating.  The authors provide useful recommendations to those who hire,  collaborate with or manage the external talent,  so that good outcomes for all parties can result.

Agile Talent Freelancers allow organizations to access the services needed only for the scope aand length of time that the organization requires.  We bring great insight, heightened productivity and relevant experience to countless organizations.  Yet organization decision-makers and those with whom we collaborate are sometimes unsure of what to expect from the arrangement with the agile talent,  or how to successfully onboard and work with us.

In order to maintain or expand our billable hours,  it is imperative that we are able to anticipate how the relationship might go off the rails and come to an unfortunate parting of the ways.  Before encountering a prospective client,  we must communicate our benefits  to them.  Packaging and promotion are essential when selling an intangible service.  Intangibles are the most difficult sale and in the knowledge economy,  these specialties represent a large percentage of B2B sales dollars.

So how can we exert some measure of influence and get ourselves paid?  It is aalways necessary for us to sell our expertise,  trustworthiness and usefulness.  When organizations are faced with a….

  • Project
  • Challenge
  • Opportunity

….the agile (or external) talent tag line gives us another way to communicate our benefits to decision-makers.  Incorporating the resonant buzz words makes us look smart and capable and makes hiring managers and project sponsors feel that they’ll look smart to superiors and subordinates when they bring us on.  Inertia,  that is,  tabling a decision indefinitely because leaders lack the confidence to move forward except in the most obvious emergencies,  is the  Freelance consultants most formidable competitor.  Anything that we can do or say to persuade prospects to become clients is a win-win.

Thanks for reading,

Kim