In this article, we explore the universal benefits of Agile transformation and provide real-world scenarios of Agile’s impact in non-software industries.
If you’ve ever had to wait in the emergency room, you’ve likely noticed a large screen behind the nurse’s station. This digital display provides real-time information about a patient’s status, whether they are sitting in the waiting room, undergoing testing, settled in a room, or awaiting discharge. This board is a valuable tool for hospital staff and patient families alike, providing insights into wait times and service availability while keeping patients’ families informed and engaged.
Imagine someone sitting in the emergency room, patiently waiting to get stitches for a cut on their arm. While they’ve been waiting, they’ve been glancing at the screen to track their position in the queue. Now, the screen signals that they’re next in line to see a doctor. However, when emergency responders flood the ambulance bay, ushering in an individual with a critical head wound, priorities change.
Hospital staff quickly adapt to the urgency of the situation, bypassing the waiting room entirely to triage the more pressing case. Only when the critical moment subsides, do hospital staff update the screen with the name and status of the patient with the head wound, consequently pushing the person in need of stitches further back in the queue.
Emergency room staff’s efficient and adaptable approach mirrors the principles of Agile, a project management approach characterized by collaboration, continuous improvement, and, above all, flexibility.
What is Agile?
To define Agile, let’s start with what it’s not: a process, technology or strict methodology. Rather, Agile is a mindset about how to approach work. Its nimble approach homes in on short-term goals and, as its name suggests, enables teams to pivot quickly and easily based on changing circumstances.
With origins in the manufacturing industry, introduced with the Ford assembly line and later refined by Toyota with Kanban, Agile has evolved into a versatile approach applicable to many industries. In 2001, a group of seventeen software developers created the Agile Manifesto to address the project management challenges they were experiencing.
While this manifesto played a key role in popularizing Agile, its industry-specific language can be deceiving, leading others to believe Agile exclusively relates to software development and causing them to view its contents as irrelevant to their respective industries.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Agile does not belong to the software industry or any specific field for that matter. Listing a few of the Agile Manifesto’s principles reveals its universal nature: providing a functional and valuable service first and foremost, anticipating and welcoming change in every stage of a project, and working within frequent shorter timescales. These priorities demonstrate that the Agile mindset is not only applicable but also advantageous to industries far beyond coding, bringing substantial value to diverse sectors that seem worlds apart.
To discover the effect of Agile transformation on different industries, we’ll draw from its defining characteristics, including identifying desired outcomes and key stakeholders, setting specific, short-term goals, and using short “sprints” of time (usually two to six weeks). These examples will illustrate that many industries are unknowingly applying aspects of Agile to their work, even if they don’t label them as such. Therefore, imagine the untapped potential of Agile transformation when teams consciously apply its mindset to their projects.
Agile Transformation in Marketing
Agile marketing offers a nimble and responsive approach for marketing teams grappling with the ever-shifting digital landscape. For example, most TikTok trends come and go within a week or less, making traditional marketing strategies less effective. As Forbes noted earlier this year, “When brands get caught up in the nuances of participating in a trend, such as content approval processes, and they post after the trend has passed, it loses all effectiveness. Not only does the content end up being pushed out too late, but it also becomes too ‘corporate’ and loses all feeling of originality — major red flags for Gen Z,” the now-target consumer.
By contrast, Agile marketing aligns seamlessly with the fast-paced nature of social media. With an emphasis on short, two-week sprints, Agile enables teams to respond rapidly to market shifts and new trends, test campaigns, and discover consumer preferences based on real-time data. Maintaining public communication with followers becomes particularly invaluable, revealing insights about customers’ needs, preferences, and expectations and informing organizations about what kind of marketing is most effective for their audience.
Successful organizations like Duolingo exemplify the benefits of this flexible approach. Its social media team prioritizes staying on top of trends and interacting with followers in the comments section, all with a distinct humorous brand voice.
Adopting an Agile mindset involves building several smaller teams, each of which focuses on a specific goal: scouting trends, responding to comments, creating original short-term content, and managing long-term brand goals. This multifaceted approach, centered on delivering value to the consumer as quickly as possible, yields more effective results in the digital space.
Agile Transformation in Healthcare
As touched upon in the introduction, hospital ERs have taken an agile approach for years by triaging the most critical patients first.
More specifically, some hospitals are using a radio frequency identification (RFID) Kanban basket system to stay on top of inventory or ease inventory stresses. As the healthcare industry seeks to become more patient-centered, efficient, and adaptive, Agile has grown more popular. Agile methodologies have been applied in healthcare to improve patient care, streamline administrative processes, and enhance collaboration among healthcare professionals.
Originating in Japanese manufacturing, Kanban (Japanese for “card”) uses visual cues like cards or bins to signal when to restock items. Therefore, adopting more Agile practices makes sense to help healthcare organizations adapt to changing regulations and patient needs more effectively.
In healthcare, the valuable service is the health of the patient. How can you do that as quickly as possible?
To keep communication flowing, team members have a “scrum” (short meeting) at the beginning of the day for quick status updates.
Agile Transformation in Construction
The construction industry traditionally follows the Waterfall management method, which entails a direct progression from the beginning to end of a project (typically commissioning, design, execution, and closeout). However, unpredictability is inherent to construction projects, whether due to weather, supply, or structural challenges, leading to potential weeks-long delays and financial losses – serious setbacks in which a linear approach falls short.
If a Waterfall construction project experiences delays, operations usually come to a halt, incurring costs until the situation resolves itself. By contrast, Agile embraces a more flexible stance, seeking ways to navigate the situation and continue operations despite setbacks.
Rather than eliminating a construction project’s linear structure, Agile construction breaks larger phases like design and execution into very small one-week sprints for enhanced flexibility and adaptability. This approach prioritizes the timely delivery of valuable services, allowing for more frequent communication with clients and a quicker response to any setbacks.
Agile Transformation in Higher Education
Agile in education transforms the traditional, top-down classroom structure by fostering a collaborative relationship between students and teachers. Instead of creating an iron-clad, one-size-fits-all syllabus, the professor develops a provisional document at the start of the semester. After obtaining student feedback every two weeks, the professor adapts the course content based on students’ needs, interests, and real-world conversations. This approach champions individual students’ strengths and learning styles, creating an environment that prioritizes collaboration and genuine understanding of course material.
As technology and teaching methods continue to evolve, Agile education serves as a valuable framework, empowering educators to navigate changes effectively and ensuring the focus of a course extends beyond memorizing prescribed content and into cultivating students’ critical thinking skills and eventual employability.
Agile Transformation in Accounting
Applying the agile mindset to accounting and tax practices can provide relief during the demanding tax season. CPA Frank Stitely compares tax season to an Ironman triathlon but proposes a more manageable approach to the stressful months by breaking them down into one-week sprints. This involves identifying projects that teams can complete within one week or dividing larger projects into smaller increments. By treating the completion of a specific number of tax returns or financial statements as a sprint, teams prioritize a focused time frame and feel more energized when looking at the progress made.
Stitely also recommends forming multilevel teams comprised of partners, managers, and junior staff to foster collaboration across different levels within the company and facilitate quick problem-solving. These quick scrum meetings provide a platform to share status updates, raise questions, and address problems. Kicking off each week with a scrum serves as a proactive measure that allows teams to swiftly navigate changing circumstances and address minor obstacles promptly, preventing them from becoming barriers to progress during the fast-paced tax season.
Agile Transformation in the Utility Sector
In recent years, the utility sector has gone through many changes, including extreme weather events, changing customer demands, and the rise of “prosumers,” people who produce and consume their own energy. Rather than reacting to shifts in consumer dynamics or the aftermath of severe storms, utility companies can take a proactive Agile approach to manage these risk factors and minimize their impact.
By regularly hosting scrums, utility teams can collaborate to identify and solve problems quickly and prioritize projects based on their urgency. Practicing Agile strategies like scrums and sprints, even in projects with smaller scopes, can reduce the impact of future challenges by fostering quick reflexes to change.
By embracing the agile mindset, utilities can become more agile, customer-focused, and innovative in their operations. Eventually, their Agile transformation will empower them to consistently deliver essential services while remaining attuned to consumer preferences, regulations and environmental concerns.
In conclusion, Agile methodologies have transcended their manufacturing and software roots to become a driving force of innovation in diverse industries. By embracing Agile principles, organizations can navigate complexity with resilience, deliver exceptional value, and ensure customer satisfaction despite any changes they may face.
So, whether you are writing code or shaping the future of healthcare, remember that agility knows no bounds, and the agile mindset can revolutionize your industry, too.