How Being Agile Helped Mammals Get Past the Dinosaurs

May 17, 2013 Mark D'Cunha

Mammals dominate life on earth today, active in almost every aspect of life and on every continent.

But it wasn’t always that way. 230 million years ago in the Triassic period, mammals lived in the shadow of dinosaurs – large creatures that dominated the world. About 66 million years ago, an asteroid crashed into the planet, causing dust and darkness and wiping out 75% of all animal and plant life. Eventually all dinosaur species became extinct, while mammals underwent extraordinary adaptations. Why did mammals survive and flourish? They were agile.

Today’s businesses are experiencing a new mass extinction event, from the impact of several “asteroids.” Gartner calls these pressures the “Nexus of Forces”:

  • Mobile
  • Social
  • Big Data
  • Cloud

Much like the Triassic period, only those who are agile will survive. In today’s world, if you don’t adapt quickly, you will become irrelevant. You only have to look at companies like Blockbuster and Barnes & Noble to see how they were displaced by NetFlix and Amazon respectively. Regardless of the field, if you hope to stay in business, you must evolve. Agile methodology is one such adaptation that can help put you ahead. It has helped Xtreme Labs grow from a staff of 2 to 250 in under six years.

Agile methodology usually applies to a project and has certain principles and methods of management. More interesting, though, is that many of the aspects useful in agile methodology are equally useful and applicable to how you run your business. Here are five ways you can apply Agile methods to managing your company:

1. Cross-functional Teams

No longer should teams be placed in siloed departments. Instead of tossing ideas, e-mails, and memos back and forth, which is extremely slow and uncoordinated, teams must now meld ideas in the earlier stages in multi-disciplinary groups (sometimes called “pods”). This type of structure allows for a quicker and more comprehensive vetting of ideas.

Through this method, responsibility for delivery lies not with the department, but with the team – which means expertise is more quickly and conveniently shared. It also means that projects and initiatives are more quickly started by the team on a small scale, instead of obtaining permission from leadership first (which often serves as a bottleneck).

2. Daily Stand-up and Demos

In order to ensure the team is on the same page, try to make sure the company meets in the morning for a daily stand-up. This 10-minute discussion about company news and activities gives people a chance to keep up with what’s happening in other teams or departments in the organization.

Similarly, weekly demos allow developers and designers to gain input from their peers on the current software build. These demos ensure everyone is on the same page and leverages the wisdom of everyone watching the demo.

3. Work Iteratively

Instead of a two-year-long project, it’s important for companies to work in shorter time frames. In agile development, project teams sprint through short deliverable cycles and identify backlogs and bottlenecks quickly. This short cycle allows for a tighter feedback loop as well, which means that updates can be given more frequently and projects are less likely to be cancelled.

4. Regular Reviews

The greatest part of working iteratively is that reviews happen frequently. These reviews ensure that efforts are aligned to objectives, that milestones are reached, and that mistakes are caught and fixed early before they become serious.

5. Retrospectives

Similar to holding frequent reviews, retrospectives offer insight into how processes, productivity, and performance can improve. These meetings share lessons and accomplishments that have occurred in the past month or quarter with the rest of the team or company.

Final Thoughts

I’ll leave the last word to another expert. As companies start moving into agile methodology on an enterprise level, Gartner offers some sound advice through their Enterprise Agile consulting and articles: “If something works, don’t fix it. Keep things simple. Listen; you never learn anything by talking. Have respect for those you work for, and who work for you.”


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About the Author


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