Digital progress has long since found its way into our working world. Not only business models are changing, but also the way we work together. Agile working is a central solution for companies to meet the challenges of digitalization. The introduction of agile approaches to work structures can mean for a company more efficiency and faster responsiveness to change. But what is agile working? What advantages do agile companies have? And what are the problems, that have to be considered?
The technical innovations of recent decades have reshaped our world by introducing continuous and rapid change processes. Companies also have to adapt to this fast pace because long-term survival now depends on continuous development and improvement. Much is being said about agile working methods. But what does agile mean? In this context, it means not getting stuck in fixed patterns, but remaining flexible, dynamic and nimble. It refers to qualities that must be adopted by corporate management. An organization that works agilely is able to act flexibly, proactively and adapt to change rapidly.
Agile working traces its origins back to the agile software development of the early 21st century. Developers were looking for new methods to enable rapid response to necessary changes in large projects. They formulated the Agile Manifesto, which defined the principle values of agile software development for the first time – and laid the foundation for agile project management. The manifesto established universally applicable principles:
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”
Scrum and Kanban are agile methods that have similar features and are often combined in practice. The Scrum method focuses on process optimization in teams. A responsible project manager distributes a task list sorted according to priorities and coordinates the continuous collaboration within the team. There is a distinct distribution of roles and regular meetings. This ensures clear structures, but places the emphasis on team members’ participation and personal responsibility. The Scrum agile working method is mostly used when a team is developing something new or a project has a tight schedule.
Kanban, on the other hand, does not necessarily focus on the team, but on the process. The objective is to minimize switching between different tasks and to concentrate on completion. The workflow is visualized and tasks are implemented in individual steps. A new task is started only after another has been completed.
Companies can initiate and promote agile working, but they can’t force it. Communication with employees and helping them to open up to change are decisive. When introducing agile methods, corporate culture, well-rehearsed working methods and management styles are called into question. The traditional top-down form of management is done away with. In agile companies, responsibility is taken from management and given to the individual teams. Free space must be created and employees encouraged to move in a new direction at all levels, meaning towards assumption of an agile mind-set. It is no longer the task of management to guide and control, but to support employees. Mutual trust and self-organization are important components of agile methods. Clearly formulated targets and guidelines replace piecemeal planning and promote rapid response to change.
However, the entire company does not have to be restructured all at once. Agile working methods can first be tested in smaller teams or on individual projects. In this way, any employee reservations can be addressed at an early stage and the corporate culture slowly shifted.
Agile working doesn’t only offer a competitive advantage and more success on the market. At the end of the day, introducing agile working methods brings about an overall change in corporate culture. The way teams work and how management leads are fundamentally altered.
A significant opportunity inherent to the introduction of agile working methods lies in increasing employee motivation and satisfaction. Teams organize their own work independently, bear more responsibility and are cross-functional. In this way, agile structures can serve to break down the traditional barriers between departments – spatial separation is removed and interdisciplinary teams established. This eliminates time-consuming handovers, meetings and discussions, which can lead to misunderstandings and delays. By applying agile working methods, companies can increase process efficiency, avoid errors and optimize work quality.
Becoming agile is an ongoing process. There is no deadline for implementation. New ideas and structures have to be tested, adapted and lived. This also applies to the corporate culture and to fostering an innovative culture of failure. The corresponding changes in roles for managers and employees can be a challenge for many companies.
There are also some obstacles in terms of labor law that must be cleared when undergoing an agile transformation. Many companies establish the introduction of agile working methods within the framework of a company agreement. But many areas will require taking individual needs into account. The legal focal points in this context are on the right to issue instructions and issues involving third parties, such as temporary employment and contracts for works and services. The current study by Corporate Legal Insights addresses these matters in detail.