How to build an agile business

Starting an agile business is an exciting time, full of challenges, learning and opportunity.  Many succeed but many fail too, building an agile business is vital to giving your business the best chance of success.

In the tech start up sector there is a popular method used as a product development and business management tool kit know as agile.  It’s a methodology that aims to maximise profit, deliver value and help you to enjoy the journey of shaping and building a successful business.  In many ways the method is a mind set and way to help you to approach and form your new agile business.

When launching an agile business and developing new products we face an environment of extreme uncertainty and constant change with disruptive and fast moving markets.  Being agile helps to navigate and guide you along this journey and find the best path to creating a sustainable and scalable business model.

Agile isn’t just for tech businesses, any business can use agile to springboard their growth as a start up by ensuring they have an agile culture that embraces change and adapts to it, turning uncertainty into opportunity.

Here are some ways agile can help you to build an agile business

Get your idea out of your head

Visualising our work is incredibly powerful for getting things out of our heads and seeing things from a different perspective. Like many find ‘saying it out loud’ is a powerful way of thinking through and rationalising your thoughts and the reality of situations, agile mapping techniques have a similar effect.  Visualising the goals, plans and work in progress when you start your business helps to provide clarity and focus, it you a clearer sight of what’s happening to find the best way forward.

Get some sticky notes and get all your thoughts, to dos and ideas out of you head so you can see them and free up your headspace.  Use agile to organise and structure them and help you to identify the priorities and the order of things.

Agile roadmaps and business models are a great way to visualise, map out and share the big picture of what’s happening in your business as you begin to grow.  Agile information dashboards provide a real-time, tactile tool that you enables you to keep sight of everything and capture your ideas.  Agile is a great tool for sharing and collaborating, when you start to recruit and for talking to your partners, clients and associates you will be able to easily show them what is happening and your vision for now and the future.

Find the 20% of your work that delivers 80% of the value

When a business is growing, changing and developing there are lots of options and not everything that we want to do can be done, we have to make difficult choices about the direction to take, agile helps to explore the options and make decisions rapidly.

Wilfredo Pareto an economist in the early 20th century presented a theory that 80% of the value we create comes from 20% of the effort put in. Identifying this 20% helps to ensure we focus on what creates the most value quickly and effectively.

Agile is a value-driven method, with success measured on value created. It focuses on the creation of working solutions that create the best return on investment.  Give yourself time to reflect and analyse your business models and solutions and use the principle to help you to identify the 20% that is of the most value, optimise the amount of ‘work not done’ to reach your objectives.

Think big, act small

When we start an agile business we have a wonderful vision of how we imagine our business when it is mature, many when asked who and where they will sell their product or service will be in the mindset that it will be bought by everyone, and that it will be sold everywhere, and that is a great vision to have for the future.  But this vision is one of the future, it is not the reality of where you are today, you need to identify the who, what, where and how that you can do today that will set you on your journey to achieving your ambitions.

Agile encourages us to think big but act small, who will be the innovators and early adopters who will engage with your agile business today, who is keen for a new solution to the problem that your business and products/services will solve for them?  These will be your early customers, the clients you can learn from, who are keen to help and feedback so that you can refine and evolve your offering to fit the first customers you work with and build something you can repeatedly sell to others.

Have a clear goal that identifies the value you seek to deliver, and the problems you aim to solve.  Break things down into manageable chunks of value, and work in short sprints to deliver value early.

Challenge your assumptions

We all make assumptions when we start a business, both ourselves, our clients and others.  Sometimes these are assumptions are correct, and sometimes they are not.  We don’t know what we don’t know, and to start an agile business we need to accept that we don’t know what we don’t know.  If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse!

Keep it simple, start with a minimum viable product and then make regular, small incremental improvements based on feedback to reach the big goal.  Get out there and share your idea, work out a way to test the value you aim to deliver without spending your entire budget, because guaranteed it will change.  There are lots of ways you can test out your business idea, you can test out your concepts through social media before you even have a product to sell, you can set up a pop up shop to get feedback early from potential customers, the key is to gather information as early as possible so that you can refine and model your business into an attractive offering that generates recurring revenue before you run out of cash, time and resource.

Agile works by integrating change on a regular basis, whether it is driven by internal or external forces. It is a learning-based method and builds continuous improvement into the early stages of your business and will serve well as a method for growing, scaling and ultimately developing new products and services that enable your business to be sustainable and successful.

Sanity Metrics over Vanity Metrics

The metrics and measures that you track when you start your business should tell you whether you are doing the right thing, and if you are doing the thing right.  They should tell you what is going well, what you can do better, what has changed and highlight any blocks or issues that need your attention.

A vanity metric will tell you what you want to hear, it will tell you what is going well but it can also paint a picture that distorts the truth and reality.  Vanity metrics are important, they help us to sell and gain confidence in our ideas, but we should not allow them to lull us into a potential false sense of security.

Sanity Metrics are the measures that tell us what we need to know to be able to leverage success and address weaknesses to ensure we are both delivering the right thing, and delivering the thing right.    Sanity metrics help us to identify whether we are gaining traction and momentum, and identify causes of friction.

Sanity metrics tell us what is actually happening and how we are progressing against our goals and objectives.    These metrics are real time true representations of the current state of play and performance trends that inform decision making and drive direction for future work.

Metrics should provide ratios and rates that tell us continuously where we are and measure if our actions are having positive or negative effects on building a sustainable, repeatable and scalable business model.

Keep a Balance

Agile builds in time to reflect, think, and experiment into the process, providing a structure to make regular, small, iterative improvements.

It is vital to balance both running your new business and growing the business in order for it to be able to continue to sustain growth and deliver value.  As a business grows and develops it can struggle with capacity, less time is available for innovative activities as the day to day orders, management and accounting needs to be done.  Agile ensures that a balance is maintained of running the day to day activities of the business while making time for continuous improvement and development throughout the business, consistently improving its products, people, systems and processes. Use agile to identify your skills gaps and see where you need to learn more or get help.

In order to build an agile start up a business must ensure that its core is flexible and adaptable and that it listens to feedback and isn’t afraid to change and try something new in order to succeed.

Being agile takes confidence, it requires that we accept that we do not know the answers to everything and that we must embrace change and work to respond and adapt to the business environment to find agility and success.

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being agile in business book

Being Agile in Business by Belinda Waldock published by Pearson, the world’s leading education publisher

Belinda Waldock is a leading business coach who has worked to help hundreds of small to medium sized businesses to overcome the challenges of fast growth by adopting agile practices to create a culture of agility.

Being Agile in Business provides simple, jargon-free advice that is designed to be read in an agile way – in short bursts that can then be put into action in the real world. The book walks the reader through agile, explaining how the strategies and tools can enable organisations and individuals to work faster and smarter and navigate the uncertainty that all businesses face every day. As well as tactics, tools, templates and other practical guides, Being Agile in Business provides real life case studies to illustrate just how agile can enable leaders to find their own way to thrive in any situation. Book

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