Listen to any marketing guru, attend a conference or even take a browse through LinkedIn and you’re sure to come across the term “agile”. The list of benefits seems endless, its evangelists are many and there’s a distinct sense that any small business that isn’t buying into the philosophy is missing out. So, what does it actually mean to be agile and is it all as good as it seems?
What is Agile?
The central idea of the Agile mindset is that huge industry leaders are incredibly strong, resilient and can command an immense amount of force. Leveraging that power however, takes a considerable amount of time and effort. They might be the strongest, but they’re slow to think and even slower to move. In the rapidly evolving modern marketplace, this opens up a golden opportunity for smaller businesses. Free from the shackles of countless board meetings, discussions, approval processes, hiring cycles and risk analysis, they can take bold moves to act on opportunities as they arrive.
How do we become an Agile business?
There are three central ideas that drive agile businesses. The first is to take a stance that is a mixture of active and reactive. Instead of outright telling customer what they want or bending to their every whim, you listen to their ideas and make an informed decision as to whether or not that would be beneficial to implement. The best way to achieve this is to establish an intimate understanding of your industry and customers. Take the time to use of Google trends, industry white papers and customer touch points to gather as much information as you can on their thoughts, habits and desires.
The second is empowering employees. Agile businesses greatly encourage an increased level of passion and engagement from all employees. These valuable traits can be a great boon to your business, providing you with happier, more interested workers that can bring you a unique perspective. Encourage your employees to express their ideas and opinions, and when they do make sure that they feel like they’re being listened to.
The third and final idea is to understand business as an iterative process. This is often summed up as the misleading “fail fast, fail often”, a mantra that rather misses the point of being Agile. Your aim is not to simply make mistakes until you stumble across the right solution, it’s to make informed decisions in reaction to your customers and your market. It’s all about being willing to progress, change and evolve, looking to continuously refine your service to better fit the nature of a rapidly changing world.
What are the potential downfalls?
Applied correctly, an agile mindset drives innovation but it’s not a silver bullet. Like all business strategies, a great deal of judgement and insight has to be used when making decisions. Being agile does not mean adopting rudimentary new ideas straight into your business before they’ve come to fruition. You should instead look for trends with an already strong performance and the definite potential for sustained growth. You’re not looking to be the genesis of a new way of doing things, simply ahead of most other players in your industry.
Likewise it’s no use being at the very cutting edge if all of your business initiatives share little in common: your brand identity, core customer demographic and USP will all be severely diluted if you do. Instead, you should be looking to embrace a small number of trends that work together, remembering that even brilliant ideas will fail if they’re not used correctly.