Agile is innovation - Richmond Innovation

If you’re not Agile you’re probably not Innovative

…and 8 Agile principles that innovators need to embrace, and why

Agile and innovation are inseparable and in many ways are one and the same thing. Depending on how we define innovation we could say that innovation is the continuous delivery of value to our customers and a culture that promotes creativity, ideas and learning. That’s Agile.

The Agile Manifesto would indicate that teams should be communicating and collaborating to continuously and flexibly deliver customer value. Scrum, Kanban and Lean Startup also promote early delivery of customer value, continuous improvement of the work stream, measuring, learning, adaptation, empowered teams and open and honest communication. All values that innovative organisations must also embrace.

Are there differences in Agile and Innovation?

Some might point out that Agile and Innovation are different because Agile is the ability to adapt to change while innovation is the creation of change, but which comes first? It’s chicken and egg. Innovation can create change but it can also respond to it. Agile can help organisations adapt to change but it can also be a catalyst to create change. The two are inseparable. Revolutionary or radical innovation can create change in the market with new and novel ideas, but it’s very unlikely that an organisation that is not agile will be in a position to bring disruptive ideas to market. Agile also drives continuous improvement and incremental innovation, both internally and with product and service improvements. For a company to respond to competition and market changes they must be agile enough to bring ‘me too’ or copy cat innovations to market quickly.

The problem

Here’s the problem. Uber, Amazon, Tesla and Spotify are organisations that have revolutionised markets. As highly innovative and disruptive companies one could argue that they are already agile. Agility was built into their business model from the beginning.

But what about other organisations? Those that are struggling to compete with the rapid level of change that is brought about by disruptive new entrants. Not only do they need to respond quickly to the threat but, if they are to get ahead, they also need to innovate at all levels from incremental to radical. They can only do this if they are both agile and innovative.

It is accepted that there are some differences between the agile mindset (responding to change) and the innovation mindset (creating change) but organisations, whether small or large, need to embrace both to compete effectively and deliver continuous customer value. Those that try to embrace just one or the other risk becoming irrelevant.

8 agile values and principles that should be embraced by innovators and why:

As organisations focus on innovation they must also embrace agile values so that their innovation capability can deliver sustainable customer value. Here are 8 agile values and principles that organisations should consider to improve the delivery of innovation:

Vision – Set an outcome based inspirational vision and people will find new and novel ways to achieve it. Forget 20% increases in sales targets. Instead focus on customer outcomes and revolutionising markets.

Collaboration – Break down organisational silos and encourage people to work together and share and refine ideas. The ‘wisdom of crowds’ will allow ideas to flourish and develop into new products, services and processes.

Communication and Openness – Being open with each other about ideas, risks, challenges and behaviours will encourage a working environment that leads to more successful innovations being delivered. Without open communication a lack of trust for innovation can build up resulting in few if any innovation projects being approved.

Empowerment and Trust – People need space to innovate and stifling them with process and top down management control results in a lack of freedom or time to innovate. People will focus only on day to day activities rather than seeing the bigger picture and identifying opportunities.

Servant leadership – Leaders that empower individuals to deliver success and then support them through coaching and mentoring are likely to open up new channels of innovative thinking.

Courage – Teams must be able to challenge the status quo by introducing ideas that may not be comfortable for the organisation. Conversely, people must be comfortable to ‘fast fail’ projects and initiatives that are no longer delivering value without the risk of criticism.

Customer focus – Organisations should have a focus on the end customers outcomes rather than outputs so that they can deliver new and innovative services that change behaviour and deliver what the customer really wants.

Validated learning / Empiricism – Innovation deals with uncertainty and thus validated learning through build, measure, learn (Lean startup) or empirical process through transparency, inspection and adaptation (Scrum) will result in a continually improving process and new products that are fit for purpose. Rather than long term planning based on detailed business cases, validated learning tests the market directly and feeds learning back into the process. This is essential to improve speed to market and product viability.

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