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Comment: Five things retailers should think of before betting on agile

Business agility is a hot topic and for good reasons. Agile technology is all about quick launches, rapid iteration, satisfying customer demand and addressing issues when they arise. In a world where digital interaction with customers, partners and suppliers increasingly takes place through applications and online services, it’s a proposition no retailer can ignore, especially as consumer expectations are ever growing.

A study from Zogby Analytics and CA Technologies showed that 58% of consumers say their tolerance for technical issues impacts their decision to use or purchase a brand’s application and 47% have dumped a brand’s application for another brand due to a better feature or service. Given over half of us now shop using mobile apps, the emerging message is clear – retailers need to offer more exciting digital experiences and a much more rapid and continuous delivery of value to create competitive advantage.

That’s the promise of agile delivery – it lets retailers innovate those new customer experiences, be more adaptive to change and grow revenues. But embarking on a journey towards agility is no small task. To do it well requires knowledge, cultural change and practice at all levels. Here are five key things retailers should think about before betting on agile:

Tie agility to a business initiative. Every retail innovation originated from a clear business need. Take click and collect as an example – it was a way of bringing additional value to customers while driving fresh revenue for the business. Retailers that are thinking about taking on agile methodologies need to tie them to a particular business objective – especially if they want to achieve quicker return on investment.

Think about your culture. In order to fully embrace agile, retailers need to foster a culture that empowers individuals and teams, embraces change and doesn’t punish failure but encourages employees to learn from it. Retailers will need to build a culture of collaboration, which helps break down functional silos, minimises dependencies and opens up channels of communication. Encouraging a joint sense of accountability through shared leadership models will ensure support for agile is firmly rooted in the structure of the company itself.

Be focused. Traditionally agile is best suited to projects with a high degree of complexity and uncertainty, with a requirement for adaptability – most software development projects will fall within this category, as would most customer-facing functions. However, agile shouldn’t be a default go-to solution. Systems of record or the backend might not be natural contenders for agile delivery and are usually much more suited towards waterfall methods. Overtime, it’s important every organisation develops its own checklist of projects that are suitable for agile to make sure it applies it in the right way.

Find a leader. Retailers need to identify an executive sponsor for agile transformation. Adapting company culture is one thing but having someone at senior level that believes in agile methodologies and is able to drive this programme by programme from the top down is very important – if the push for agile comes only from developers, the wider business won’t see the benefits it can bring and this can significantly slow down the adoption.

Plan for measurement. Finally, it’s very important to properly plan for tracking and measuring progress. Before implementing any agile projects, retailers need to set up key metrics that will measure how agile their projects have really become, a so-called 'agile transformation dashboard'. This will not only help businesses take corrective action when needed, but also enable them to demonstrate tangible businesses benefits brought on by the introduction of agile.

A core principle sitting behind agility is a deep understanding of how value flows across an organisation and the ability to reorganise people around the creation of this value. By taking the five steps listed, retailers will be able to break down traditional functional silos, minimise dependencies, reduce waste, and improve collaboration – all key milestones when it comes to preparing your business for the agile journey. Careful planning will pay off in the end - organisations that achieve business agility note better alignment to their customers' needs and are able to regularly redeploy teams to work on the highest value initiatives with minimal upfront analysis and estimation. 

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