Agile working methods: how digital do startups work?

Agile working methods are widespread in startups and are slowly gaining ground in large corporations. But what exactly does agile working mean and which agile working methods are currently absolutely on trend?
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Agility is about flexibility and the ability to act. About goal-oriented rather than task-oriented work. About the individual employee, autonomous and self-organized work. It is about feedback and work planning in short time intervals. Behind the term agility there are many factors that are reflected in the values and culture of a company. Large companies like Spotify have shown that agile working methods are very efficient, even if they require a major rethink. In our Podcast episode with founder and managing director Carsten Dolch, the topic was agile working methods. Following on from this, we have prepared the topic for you in more detail.

What is meant by agility?

Agility is all about responsiveness. This is the big difference and advantage over traditional working methods. Sociologist Talcott Parson assumes that four functions must be fulfilled in order to act agilely:

  1. AdaptationThe ability to respond to changing external conditions.
  2. Goal Attainment. In short, this means defining and pursuing goals.
  3. integration. The ability of a system to create and maintain cohesion and inclusion.
  4. Latency. This means maintaining basic structures and value patterns.

The resulting AGIL scheme was later adopted as an abstract formula for managing companies, especially in the startup environment. "We want to be able to react better and faster to changes because the framework conditions are constantly changing within the framework of a project or a company foundation," says Carsten Dolch in an interview in FoxCast – The B2B Talk with Frank StampaThis includes, for example, developing a first, functional version of a software, product or service as quickly as possible. "In essence, it's about this: I am flexible, able to react to changes quickly and in a structured manner and to be able to adapt in order to achieve an overarching goal."

What happened to the classic waterfall model?

What is the difference between agile working methods and the classic waterfall model, which has been tried and tested for so long, and what are the main advantages? Companies with a long history and many years of experience in particular still work according to the classic waterfall model. After all, these companies have been successful for decades, so why change anything? There is a lot of planning behind the waterfall model, but there is also the risk of not realizing until two years later that what you are doing is not really working. Nevertheless, work continues as usual. The waterfall method is a linear process and consists of several independent phases that are clearly defined from the start of the project. This offers a good estimate of costs and workload, but at the same time it cannot be changed and is therefore not flexible. This is a crucial difference.

Agile working methods come from the startup environment. They offer flexibility and the ability to act quickly, which is exactly what is missing in the waterfall methodology. Agile working methods have now arrived in large corporations, but only partially. The fact is that agile working methods are becoming more and more of a trend, but are still difficult to implement in traditional companies. The biggest challenge in companies is to transform old behavioral patterns and ways of thinking. "How do I get people to change their behavior?" is the key question posed by Carsten Dolch, CEO and founder of FoxBase. The change would mean that people would no longer work in a task-oriented but rather goal-oriented manner. And at the same time, that the boss would give up control. But what exactly do agile working methods look like?

The core elements of agile working methods

1) Responsiveness

With the help of agile methods, companies can react and act more quickly to changes. By working in short sprints that can last one to four weeks, teams have the opportunity to react more quickly to new requirements. Although agile work also pursues a specific goal, not all tasks are predefined from day one.

2) customer centricity

The customer is the focus. The Customer satisfaction is one of the top priorities, which leads to close collaboration. Feedback is regularly obtained and adjusted. This is particularly evident in software development, where new features can be quickly incorporated based on customer requests. In contrast to the waterfall method, the end product is not set in stone, because if something new and innovative is to be created, a planned approach is more of a hindrance.

3) Goals instead of tasks

Agile working methods tend to optimize for goals. This also means that employees are free to decide when and how long they work, as long as the goal is achieved. It is important that the goals are not set by the boss, but are defined by the employees themselves in exchange. Agile working therefore also requires agile leadership.

4) Corporate values and culture

Flexibility, agility, values... all of these have to match. The core elements of agile working should always be anchored in the values and culture of a company. For example, control would work against the concept of agile working. Instead, it is important to empower each individual employee and give them the space to work autonomously and self-organized.

Techniques of agile work

Kanban Board

The Kanban board is the first thing that comes to mind when asked about agile working methods. With a Kanban board, tasks are visualized and divided into process stages. This helps to structure daily work. With the help of cards, columns and continuous improvement in Kanban boards, employees and teams are assigned tasks that can realistically be completed within a certain period of time. Kanban boards help to show which work status each task is currently in and it helps to work independently. A free and popular provider of a Kanban board is, for example, Trello.

Scrum

Scrum is essentially about a project consisting of three dimensions: time, scope and resource. The scope dimension is variable. In the Scrum model, work is always carried out in sprints, which can be one week or four weeks long. Longer sprints are not productive, however. In Scrum, work is deliberately carried out in weekly intervals in order to be able to react to changes as quickly as possible. At the same time, it enables autonomous and structured work. At the end of each sprint, the tasks of the next sprint are created in cards and prioritized. This is to ensure that employees can focus on their tasks during the sprint without having to hold meetings and make arrangements, because the tasks are already clearly defined and should not be changed during the current sprint. An example: A company wants to launch the web shop in six months and breaks this project down into sprints with individual, concrete tasks that contain user stories. The user stories serve to understand and set the objectives of the respective task. At the end of a sprint, the results are presented to the team and in the retrospective they reflect on what went well and what didn't go so well. In agile working methods, you have methods to constantly adapt the plan based on the knowledge gained. "You are not faster, but you are more responsive," is Carsten Dolch's conclusion about the Scrum method.

Stand-up

Another technique is the standup. Every day, the individual teams meet to report on what they worked on yesterday and what tasks are pending for today. This allows problems to be addressed and solutions found early on. In this way, standups are not used for control, but for early problem solving. Standups are always timeboxed, which means that each participant has a set amount of time to talk. This is usually no more than two minutes. 

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Tips and Tricks?

Kanban Board, Scrum and Standup are just three examples of agile working techniques. There are many others. The following books provide a good overview: Agile working in practice or Agile values and competence development. Transparency is important with agile working methods, as is introducing new employees to the processes from day one. Open communication is a decisive advantage for this, but so is regular exchange within the company itself. Agile working is basically a very natural way of working, sums up Carsten Dolch. Whether at school or university, everyone has been in the situation of having to structure and carry out their everyday life and their to-dos independently. "The important thing is always: a problem has to be solved!" Carsten Dolch's most important tip at the end of the FoxCast episode: "Be open to new methods!"

You can listen to the entire podcast episode here:

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Agility thus determines the modern working day. Agile tools can also support your team to achieve better success and project completions both in B2B sales and in other areas. But which Agile tools are particularly trendy in 2022? Check out our blog article!

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