People power: The key to staying agile while scaling

By Guest Contributor, - Employee experienceProductivity

This blog is guest authored by Simon Abrahams, Industry Analyst at Teknowlogy Group

Executing innovation is one of the hardest challenges for businesses to get right, especially when that innovation needs to happen at scale. It’s very easy to commit too many resources into an innovative and off-the-wall project that ends up failing. And it’s just as easy to “over-innovate”, resulting in new ideas being applied for the sake of it, instead of because they add business value.

This is why we’ve teamed up with Fujitsu. We wanted to dissect the most complex parts of the innovation process to help organisations understand the stumbling blocks to innovating meaningfully.

The importance of being agile

Across the innovation journey, we discovered that scaling is one of the sharpest turns in the road. It regularly threatens to veer innovation projects off-track and this is predominantly due to innovation’s need for agility.

Being agile is imperative because it means ideas can be tested quickly. If these ideas fail, teams are able to quickly iterate or withdraw resources without much loss to the company. If these ideas succeed, the team can quickly enlarge their focus on the project and greaten value.

It also means teams can be reactive to customer needs. If customer behaviour hints at a new consumer need, teams are able to quickly innovate a corresponding business offering. The advantage is that brands can remain relevant and progressive.

For businesses to reap the advantages of agility, they must first develop the flexibility that agile requires – and this comes down to size. If a business operates in smaller moving parts it can respond and adjust rapidly, but if a business works as one big moving part it can take months (if not years) to change its trajectory. This slow pace just isn’t compatible with agility and innovation.

Regardless of business size, flexibility is only gained when teams are small and autonomous.

Hanging on to agile when scaling

Agility allows an innovation team to increase efforts and resources once a pilot project has proven itself to be successful. However, up-scaling can also be a downfall in the innovation process – and it’s one to be wary of.

Scaling means more resources and people. An increased headcount threatens to cull the quick nature of small innovation teams. In turn, reaction time in response to challenges are bogged down, which only makes the already complex step of putting innovation into production even more difficult.

The growing size of a team can also clog up communication channels and lead to more room for misunderstands over who should be doing what. Again this adds on time that innovation can’t afford. To overcome this, ownership of innovation projects must be outlined and understood by everyone involved from the start of a project.

Furthermore, despite the growth in people, businesses must find a way to retain the micro-business-style teams seen in the pilot stage. As is evident from our research, a lot of businesses combat this conundrum by creating multiple micro teams, rather than adding to the existing agile team.

However, if you’re creating multiple innovation teams to retain agility, it’s important to monitor and encourage fluidity between teams. Internal competition between teams can incite innovation projects for the sake of innovation, and this is when value to the business starts to dwindle. Rather than operating as siloed competitors, teams should always be open to operating collaboratively across roles.

Success is underlined by your people

Agility and the strategy you implement to achieve that are, of course, important to innovation. However, none of this is possible without the efforts of your people. They’re the ones that need to be prepared to work in a less conventional and less structured team.

For the change towards a more innovative and agile way of working, there needs to be buy-in across the business – regardless of whether an employee is immediately involved in the project. This is something that needs to be gained right from the start.

Our report unearthed the importance of leadership in gaining support. Leadership needs to demonstrate their positive support for changes to working style, as this can guide employees’ reactions.

They also need to celebrate the value of working agilely when it happens. For example, when a pilot is successful and it’s ready to scale-up, inform the company of the results it has shown to warrant this growth.

While not everyone in the company may be working on projects, it’s important to get buy-in company-wide because as innovation is scaled, they may be needed further along the line. By gaining buy-in early they’re already prepared to work agilely and can see the benefit of doing so.

There will always be some employees who will only feel comfortable with conventional methods of working. But as long as the majority of people are onboard to the extent where agile can be embedded within the company’s culture, the agility much-needed by innovation will remain despite scaling.

Innovation will continue to be a pressing focus for businesses. To find out what creates success, and the pitfalls to avoid access the report: Innovation to Execution: The Hardest Step of All here.

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