How to be agile without getting bogged down in the details

Part 6: Three lessons for understanding agile methodology and applying it well

With digital transformation, you must constantly react to change. To help people adapt, a new methodology was introduced: agile. While this term is thrown around a lot today, putting it into practice isn’t so easy, mainly because it’s not well understood. In business, what exactly does it mean to be agile?

To help answer this question, insights were shared during a round-table discussion amongst three of Sid Lee’s digital experts: Éric Briand, Vice-President, Digital Solutions and Partnerships; Caroline Royer, Product Manager; and Jean-François Lavigne, UX Director.

The talk was moderated by Sid Lee copywriter Mathieu Rolland.

Lesson 1: Agility isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a practical approach to work.

MR: Can you explain what agility is in simple terms?

JFL: First and foremost, it’s a way of structuring work. Agility splits up the traditional methodology, often called “waterfall.” The waterfall model divides work into long phases: several months of conception, several months of production and approval steps that are very spaced out. Under the agile method, there are a lot more phases and they’re scheduled closer together. Teams meet up regularly to ensure that the project is on track.

CR: Agility is based more on people and their interactions than processes and tools. All team members need to take an active part in the project. The goal is to be hyper-transparent with each other so we can adjust as needed, and also be aware of how the project is progressing. And company leaders need to be available to provide feedback on how things are evolving, otherwise the whole project suffers.

EB: The main advantage of agility is quick delivery. Paradoxically, it gets you to think about products and services in the long term too. This methodology also allows you to assess the experience and functions related to a product so you can improve it—after all, nothing is perfect the first time. The iPhone is a good example to illustrate how this works. At first, they wanted to make a phone equipped with a computer. Once the first model was released, they set new priorities, which led to them improving the phone, and so on. Even today, the iPhone remains in constant evolution.

Lesson 2: With agility, you’ll never fall behind.

MR: What are the advantages of agility for a company?

JFL: It allows you to test things on a smaller scale and get feedback from consumers, either retroactively or by analyzing collected behavioural data, and make adjustments accordingly. You detect problems a lot quicker. That’s why agility is relevant in the digital age.

EB: If you’re constantly reacting and adjusting, you can’t fall behind industry trends. You’ll avoid playing catch-up with your own business needs too. A company’s website may not matter much today, but it might in six months or in a year or two.

CR: We communicate regularly, and our opinions aren’t just listened to—they’re essential. That’s very motivating, and the process feels collaborative. For example, we’ve used war rooms with many clients to facilitate agility. These are temporary rooms where the whole team works together. For large-scale projects, not only was the work delivered on time, it was on budget.

Lesson 3: Agility requires everyone to be involved.

MR: How can a company apply agility properly?

EB: Agile methodology terminology—lean, scrum, design thinking, stakeholder and so on—can be intimidating. To make sense of it all, if you’re not working with an agency, find someone internal who has the knowledge and experience to establish a model that fits your needs.

JFL: It’s important to manage everyone’s time well in order to maximize their efforts. People often say that the agile methodology requires a lot of meetings. But if each meeting is well organized, if the right people are present and if everyone respects the process and does their work, it works really well. If two people have something to discuss, they don’t need to do it in a 20-person meeting. And try stand-up meetings. You’re not there to chit-chat. The goal is to update the whole team so you can prioritize what needs to get done for the day.

CR: I use a stopwatch during meetings. If we’re on one issue for more than five minutes, that means a couple of people should have talked to each other beforehand. So we move on to the next thing, and we’ll come back to the question during the next meeting once the issue is clarified. So my meetings are pretty efficient!

JFL: Reconsider your work space too. I used to work for a company that completely reconfigured their office specifically for the purposes of agile methodology. Areas were divided by groups and we could write on all the walls! On top of that, everyone was trained in the method.

EB: Finally, I can’t stress this enough: Product owners—the company leaders—must be present and available on a regular basis. Get out of your office and get your hands dirty!

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. As a result, the Chamber cannot be held responsible for published content.

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