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4 Examples of Agile in Non-technology Businesses

The Agile methodology serves as a beacon model that improves productivity and collaboration. While the software industry predominantly uses Agile, businesses outside the technology domain are also using it to become nimble, competitive and, well, agile! In this post, we show a few real-world examples of how the Agile methodology is helping non-technology businesses remain true to their core principles of continuous improvement and delivery.

Before we list the examples, a brief introduction to Agile is essential. This short primer would help you as the reader to better grasp the impact of Agile in these companies.

An incremental, iterative approach forms the basis for Agile methodology. The Agile philosophy encourages constant feedback from the end-user and working with changing requirements is one of its core tenets. Cross-functional teams work on versions of a product over time. A prioritized list of work called the Backlog ensures that the relevant tasks get done first. Business or customer value primarily dictates this priority. A time-bound sprint defines the number of work items that will get done in each Sprint at the end of which a working version of the product is ready for user feedback.

The Agile methodology encourages teamwork, individual ownership, open communication, and self-governance. Business owners and developers work collaboratively to bring customer and company goals to fruition.

Lonely Planet’s legal team accelerates innovation by adopting Agile and lean practices.

Lonely Planet is synonymous with travel. Founded in 1972, Lonely Planet is a publisher of travel books and has sold more than 120 million copies. Its popular travel app has more than 10 million downloads.

The lonely planet legal team plays a vital role in the organization. Apart from everyday work such as managing contracts, they manage the overall organization risk and advise business strategy for various legal entities in the group.

Existing challenges

The legal team faces several challenges. These include exhaustive day-to-demands and constant rework leading to lower morale and rapidly declining job satisfaction. Added to this, internal clients fail to understand the nature of work and would often set unrealistic deadlines forcing constant reprioritization.

These challenges meant lawyers were unable to take on improvement projects that would help the company and the team be more productive and efficient. On the face of it, adopting Agile seems counter-intuitive. The fast-paced nature of Agile does not sit well with the perfectionism needed in the legal profession. However, with the right combination of Agile, Kanban, and Scrum, lawyers at Lonely Planet have transformed from a crushing work-environment to ‘crushing it.’

Intentionally Agile

The team has three core principles – delivering value, reducing waste and continually improving. A whiteboard shows all the deliverables from team members. This whiteboard showed the diversity and intensity of the workload the team faced. Using unique printed cards internal and external team members track and monitor their work closely in the form of ‘stories’.

A points-based system evaluates the size of any work. Similar kinds of work act as a reference to calibrate this points system. A unique flavor of Kanban emerges on the whiteboard that now shows sections such as ‘to do,’ ‘doing,’ and ‘done.’ Members who own the cards continuously monitor blockers and track the work across its lifecycle. 

Teams requiring legal work now leave a placeholder card on the board. The team then picks these up based on their prioritization. The prioritization is mostly left to the legal groups who act as trusted brokers. Transparency of information and priorities on the whiteboard helps pick up requests impartially.

The whole team looks at the board end-to-end and continually fine-tunes and makes improvements in the way work is delivered. The team stays in touch with internal clients and measures their satisfaction using the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Implementing this methodology took 100 days, and the team has improved its productivity by 25%.

The National Art Museum of the Netherlands builds public affinity using Agile methodology

The Rijksmuseum, National Art Museum of the Netherlands is the oldest museum in the Netherlands. It was completed in 1885 and was intended to serve as a cathedral to store and showcase the greatest Dutch works of art and history.

Throughout the 20th century, the museum’s glory rapidly eroded and became cluttered with office spaces and dusty hallways. At the turn of the millennium, the Dutch government along with private donors restored the museum to its former glory, and the museum opened to the public in 2013.

In the old museum, all art pieces were arranged by specialization each having its own curator. E.g., Ceramics are grouped, while canvas arts are displayed separately. This grouping, however, did not give visitors a sense of historical narrative.

Creating a powerful narrative

At the time, the museum realized that organizing installations by timelines – starting from the Middle Ages to the 20th century – would be more impactful. This display logic meant that curators would have to be more collaborative.

Working groups for each timeline were established, with each group consisting of individuals with specialized knowledge about the century who could channelize the right interpretation for the visitors. These individuals were encouraged to push through their view of the timeline they specialized in. This behavior avoided homogeneity and consensus which in this case could be detrimental to the interpretation of the timeline.

Over the next year and a half, through extensive research, each group proposed the artifacts that could be displayed in the gallery. However, each group needed to limit the number of artifacts such that they still gave the real sense of the timeline and gave other groups the same opportunity.

At this point, the directors needed to cut down each groups’ artifacts to roughly one-third the number of artifacts. Since it is difficult to let go of artifacts that cannot be displayed, the existing groups were dissolved, and new ones came in its place. Each member here would give substantial reasons for why their artifacts should be displayed, how they would interact with the other artifacts and why the visitors would be interested in them. This reasoning created a sense of ownership for not just their own artifacts but also for the entire timeline they were responsible for.

Astounding results and continuous improvement

At the museum’s opening in 2013, it received 2.5 million visitors who grew by 250,000 the subsequent year. True to the Agile tenets of continuous improvement, the museum drew up plans to tackle essential questions of how to move from being keepers of history to shape it. They also hoped to expand the reach of the museum beyond the borders of Belgium. Above all else, they wanted to see how they can be a museum that people can call their own.

The museum now engages in ongoing work with the common of improving visitors experience and knowledge about their history and art. At the same time, the team at Rijksmuseum focuses on staying current with improvements in technology to foster better collaboration and continuous improvement.

NPR uses Agile methodologies to create programming at a ⅓ cost advantage

NPR or the National Public Radio is an American broadcast radio network. Established in 1971, NPR produces news and cultural programs. NPR is a non-profit organization that receives both public and private funds for its operations. It often a syndicator to a network of over 1,000 public radio stations across America. Government entities such as public universities own most of its member stations.

Traditionally, producers at NPR pitched ideas to executives about program ideas. The ones that passed muster hired the right people, created extensive programming that headed for a big launch. At the same time reps would try to sell the show to local radio stations. This process was expensive and fraught with risk with no apparent underlying data to indicate the program’s success or failure.

Faced with an acute budget shortage, the programming department turned to Agile. They began exploring how Agile would be applicable in a real-world non-technology scenario. The results have been staggering. The network now creates small pilot shows with minimal staff. The producers then gather feedback from local program directors. They also ask listeners for feedback often from social media. This process is quick, efficient and significantly less risk-prone.

This approach has a two-fold advantage. Being less risky and made with minimal development, it saves significant cost. This saving lets NPR distribute its show to local outlets at no charge. The iterative nature of programming and constant feedback allows them to stay in tune with the listeners’ needs and build a quality audience.

Mission Bell Winery sees multifold improvement in productivity with Agile and Scrum

Part of the Constellation Brands group, Mission Bell Winery embraced Scrum methodology to qualify for Safe Quality Food (SQF) Level 2 certification. Apart from the certification, the winery realized that these methodologies would positively impact other areas of operation as well. Mission Bell Winery’s 45 employees ship more than 12 million cases of wine each year.

After a two-day coaching session on Agile and Scrum, suggestions on making the winery happier and more productive were invited from employees. Post this ideation, executives came up with a prioritized list of ideas and established small pilots in departments such as cellar operations, winemaking, distribution, bottling, quality and plant maintenance.

The distribution unit needed to dedicate time for special products. However, everyday work came in the way and less time is available for innovation on these products. The unit began testing processes to improve daily work faster and find more time for special products. They also allocated 10% of their time for interruptions from the mother brand and created more effective ways to deal with them.

In the next three months, the distribution team’s efficiency increased more than tenfold. Staging and loading improved from 411 cases to 425. The annual finished goods inventory process increased by 90% and the ISO 9001 recertification was completed with zero exceptions. The process empowers the team to resolve most issues. Any issues beyond their control escalate immediately to a resolution team.

Getting everybody to buy-in to the Scrum method and moving to decentralized execution, the team at Mission Bell Winery were able to accrue tangible benefits in productivity and boost employee morale. They now have more time for special products and employees are excited to watch their velocity accelerate.

Conclusion

While these are just four examples of Agile in other industries, almost any business can adopt and implement the core principles of Agile. These four examples are proof that Agile methodologies accrue tangible real-world benefits. The next time you hear Agile, think beyond software development! If you have any stories of how Agile has helped your non-technology business, tweet and let us know!

References

  1. Rigby, Darrell K., Steve Berez, Greg Caimi, and Andrew Noble. “Agile Innovation.” Bain. December 26, 2018. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.bain.com/insights/agile-innovation.
  2. “Lonely Planet Legal Affairs: Smart People Lean Work Practices = Innovation.” Luna Tractor. January 29, 2012. Accessed May 13, 2019. http://lunatractor.com/not-just-an-it-thing-our-book/lonely-planet-legal-affairs-smart-people-lean-work-practices-innovation.
  3. Aghina, Wouter, and Allen Webb. “Accidentally Agile: An Interview with the Rijksmuseum’s Taco Dibbits.” McKinsey & Company. October 2018. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/accidentally-agile-an-interview-with-the-rijksmuseums-taco-dibbits.
  4. Denning, Steve. “Can Big Organizations Be Agile?” Forbes. November 29, 2016. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2016/11/26/can-big-organizations-be-agile/#5d0b113538e7.
  5. Scott, James. “Using Agile in Non-Software Industries.” Gantt Chart GanttPRO Blog. April 23, 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://blog.ganttpro.com/en/agile-in-non-software-industries-with-examples/.
  6. Kelly, Allan. “Agile Outside Software.” LinkedIn SlideShare. September 04, 2014. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.slideshare.net/allankellynet/agile-outside-software.
  7. Handscomb, Christopher, Scott Sharabura, and Jannik Woxholth. “The Oil and Gas Organization of the Future.” McKinsey & Company. September 2016. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/oil-and-gas/our-insights/the-oil-and-gas-organization-of-the-future.

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About the Writer

  • Hrishikesh Bidwe

    Hrishikesh is a marketer with more than a decade of experience across various marketing functions. At Synerzip he focuses on content innovation and honing the Inbound marketing function. His professional interests vary from deep diving into the nuts and bolts of marketing functions such as attribution models to understanding the increasing level of technical sophistication a marketer today must have. Hrishikesh has a Masters in Business Administration degree from Symbiosis and a Bachelors in Engineering from Pune University.

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