Agility is only for start-ups, right? We’ve long been positioned to think that larger organisations are simply not able to be as responsive to change as smaller companies. That change is slow due to their sheer size and the bureaucracy and risk-averse nature that tends to permeate when an operation reaches a certain size. It’s down to the entrepreneurs to innovate and large companies with lots of resources to wait and risk being behind the curve. Only that thinking is now being challenged by a number of larger outfits who want the benefits of agile ways of working and have the budget and governance to make it happen. Every business leader is desperate to avoid becoming the next Kodak, by combining size with adaptability and responsiveness to a market where change comes rapidly, driven by global communication networks and the universal service expectations that they raise.

Increasingly, captains of industry are wanting to adopt agile methodology and think like the small businesses who have disrupted their more traditional models. The pillars of leadership themselves are shifting away from personalities and behaviours to be much more focused on adaptation. In a worldwide marketplace that is so connected, even a business with the deepest pockets can’t afford to be malleable.

Too Big To Lose?

History has proved that titans can and do come crashing down, often through complacency or of becoming immersed in a sense of being too big to fail. However, ever since the global financial crisis it’s been illustrated time and again that simply isn’t the case anymore. Huge retail chains, banking giants and businesses with long heritages have come crashing down overnight in the volatile and complex world that we now operate in. No business leader can now afford to become insular or to measure success much beyond the last quarter. Darwinism has come to the fore once more, as businesses which fail to evolve get left behind at a faster pace than ever before. The trouble boils down to one thing; perceived opportunity cost. While start-ups have little more than a handful of projections scribbled in a business plan, a lot of self-belief and a pocketful of dreams, large corporations have much more at stake. Convincing shareholders that the right strategy is to produce some notional idea which could easily fail, instead of pursuing a successful course which has historically been profitable can feel nearly impossible. The sheer amount of layers of bureaucracy seems purpose-built to stifle innovation sometimes. Campaign launches and changes to services and product lines, when conducted to scale, end up being operations which cost millions in budget and other resources – and changing the course of something so huge is a herculean task. Changing tack is a huge strategic decisions which needs to be signed off by many people. There is also the issue of legacy technology, systems and processes, which tend to be so firmly embedded in large organisations that uprooting them presents a significant disruption and yet more cost. Something like changing a piece of legal files matter management software can take months of planning, integration and transition. Pivoting can seem like a luxury only reserved for SMEs.

Agile Management In Big Business

The answer for corporations could lie in something often referred to as ‘codeless’ or ‘zero code’ integration. Whereas traditionally, any innovation has been routed through back-end teams, R&D or technology departments, this strategy shifts the focus to front-of-house staff like marketeers and business teams. The theory is that these areas of the business have more direct contact with the demands of customers and the marketplace, and are therefore better able to determine customer wants and respond accordingly. They are provided with self-service systems to foster innovation, removing the need to rely on technology teams to interpret a brief and propose a solution. Marketeers act as customer advocates in this model, but have direct access to data and tools in order to ‘short circuit’ a solution using codeless integration. There are periods of discovery, where data is gathered and translated into insight, ideation, where a lean campaign solution is proposed, market testing, followed by lots of small, incremental developments to the product or service post-launch. This reduces the turnaround for development work to a very short cycle, and instead of aiming at a perfect, polished end-product which has been heavily invested in, there is an acceptable solution (referred to in scrum methodology as a ‘minimum viable product’) which is brought to market quickly and refined after the fact.

The Money Saving Trail

This response has come about largely due to economic drivers. Large organisations are slowly beginning to realise that the well-trodden route of grand rollouts and high stakes product development are an extremely short-sighted way of looking at things. Startups have now successfully disrupted almost every single industry out there, spreading their influence into every sector of the economy. Even if, by some chance, you operate in a space which has thus far remained relatively untouched, change is only a matter of time. The fundamental shift in technologies and globalisation demands it. Deep pockets and a heritage name can only take you so far in this scenario. What matters now is being agile and being able to execute well on a short timescale. Leveraging the processes of smaller businesses can translate into savings in time and costs that traditionally only start-ups have thought they needed to make – but the bigger the budget, the bigger the equivalent saving. Therefore the potential rewards are also far greater for those companies who work out how to keep their mass while also working with the agility of a smaller competitor. Some companies have chosen to set up smaller offshoots who can do discovery while retaining the comforting backing of the parent company and it’s millions. Others have made sweeping changes to structures and processes to embrace more agile working methods and try to emerge ahead of the game. There is no guaranteed route to success, but what is certain is that those who don’t even try are living on borrowed time.

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