Embracing Agile

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This article originally appeared on Harvard Business Review (subscription may be required).

Agile innovation methods have revolutionized information technology. Over the past 25 to 30 years they have greatly increased success rates in software development, improved quality and speed to market, and boosted the motivation and productivity of IT teams.

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Now agile methodologies—which involve new values, principles, practices, and benefits and are a radical alternative to command-and-control-style management—are spreading across a broad range of industries and functions and even into the C-suite. National Public Radio employs agile methods to create new programming. John Deere uses them to develop new machines, and Saab to produce new fighter jets. Intronis, a leader in cloud backup services, uses them in marketing. C.H. Robinson, a global third-party logistics provider, applies them in human resources. Mission Bell Winery uses them for everything from wine production to warehousing to running its senior leadership group. And GE relies on them to speed a much-publicized transition from 20th-century conglomerate to 21st-century “digital industrial company.” By taking people out of their functional silos and putting them in self-managed and customer-focused multidisciplinary teams, the agile approach is not only accelerating profitable growth but also helping to create a new generation of skilled general managers.

The spread of agile raises intriguing possibilities. What if a company could achieve positive returns with 50% more of its new-product introductions? What if marketing programs could generate 40% more customer inquiries? What if human resources could recruit 60% more of its highest-priority targets? What if twice as many workers were emotionally engaged in their jobs? Agile has brought these levels of improvement to IT. The opportunity in other parts of the company is substantial.

Read the full article in the Harvard Business Review.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2016 issue (pp.40–48, 50) of Harvard Business Review.

Darrell K. Rigby is a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company. He heads the firm’s global innovation and retail practices. He is the author of Winning in Turbulence.

Jeff Sutherland is a cocreator of the scrum form of agile innovation and the CEO of Scrum Inc., a consulting and training firm.

Hirotaka Takeuchi is a professor in the strategy unit of Harvard Business School.