Agile thinking: empowering teams to make decisions

Traditionally, managers had everything under control – bestowed with the power to make plans and decisions that their team members executed. But in an ever fast-changing environment, this approach no longer makes sense. Managers don’t have all the expertise needed to make the best decisions and, with a team of great and committed people, could be missing out on capitalizing on their untapped potential.

The way forward is an agile methodology, which we at Orange Business Services have adopted – and it has undoubtedly exceeded our expectations. This methodology has improved on delivery dates and cut out escalations, it has given more transparency and better communication to our customers and it has globally improved our customers’ and our teams’ satisfaction. Its adoption and results have been so effective that customers want us to drive their teams in an agile direction.

An agile methodology is one where the power to make decisions is shifted from one person to an empowered team, with individuals and teams taking more responsibility and end-to-end accountability. It is about not being afraid to make decisions and moving forward once the team has agreed on the best option.

It is important to note that agile doesn’t happen on its own. Organizations have to be architected for it. As the MIT Sloan Management Review points out, this means removing some of the “choke points,” such as poor talent management and rigid mind sets. According to research by Western Michigan University, organizations need to have a clear company vision and a defined project scope in order to avoid agile failure.

Putting agile in place

Agile means no one is working alone anymore – everyone is working as part of a team – but this requires cultural and behavioral changes. At Orange Business Services, we see training as the first step in adopting an agile methodology, where team members learn how to share information effectively. We also include coaching to help leaders become comfortable with the fact that they may not be experts at everything but have the vision to let team players execute decisions.

We also explain that agile doesn’t necessarily mean going fast. Teams must not be blinded by a fast-moving environment. They must be able to step outside it and identify the information they need to make the best decisions possible.

We also underline the importance of understanding the end-to-end context. Everyone in the chain needs to communicate and contribute to decide on the best actions. Yes, there are tools, but human intelligence is needed to modify processes to be more productive.

The new role of managers

This agile approach isn’t about stripping managers of their power, it is about giving them a new center of focus that is arguably more important. The world has moved on from one where managers are recognized simply for their knowledge and expertise. Managers now have a big responsibility as coaches, bestowing the team with their visions and allowing them to make decisions and execute tasks faster.

Teams themselves also have to drop the trappings of validation, hierarchy and approval on which they have rested heavily. They must be prepared to make their own decisions and accept the consequences. Those that can do this can be 28% more successful than through traditional methods, according to research by PwC.

Of course, leadership is still key, but it is more distributed. It is about understanding the “end customer” expectation and identifying the best way to meet to it. This ability can come from anywhere in the team – while the manager is there to provide a guiding hand and re-focus the team, if needed, throughout the project. With a high level of communication and collaboration, the team will be more motivated and trusting of each other.

As an empowered agile team member, each individual will be expected to make active contributions and decisions. Of course, mistakes will happen, but blame must be avoided as long as the team quickly recognizes the mistake, learns from it and moves on.

The customer is part of the team

In an agile approach, customer collaboration is very important. Every customer is looking for an answer to a need, and the answers they initially have in mind might not be the best. Involving the customer from the beginning and throughout the process provides transparency and enables them to be part of the process, which is essential to the success of any project. The use of iterative planning and customer feedback ensures that the project is continuously aligned with the customer’s expectations, and changing requirements can be easily addressed along the course of the project. In the end, the customer gets the best solution for their need, and the solution is one that everyone involved agrees upon.

Our customers have seen that an agile way of working is linked to faster execution and a quicker route to achieving better results. It has spotlighted our ownership of the project from request to delivery, resulting in reduced cycles, improved on-time delivery and faster migrations. From our experience, teams employing an agile methodology have successfully over achieved against their initial targets with a very high sense of accomplishment and recognition.

Are you ready for change?

An agile methodology can create a far more responsive, flexible, efficient organization and motivate staff by showing them how their contributions are helping colleagues and shaping the final solution. This switch to self-managed team members guided by a manager requires an ongoing commitment to changing the management environment. If your organization can make that commitment to transform, you won’t turn back from the concept of agile working.

I’m interested to know what other enterprises are doing in terms of agile working. If you are thinking of or have adopted an agile methodology, let me hear your feedback.

Sara Puigvert
Sara Puigvert

Sara Puigvert has always been passionate about developing new ways of working and allowing her teams to unleash their potential to better serve customers. Driven by customer satisfaction and team recognition, she believes in the strength of team empowerment and collective intelligence. Sara is currently leading Global Operations at Orange Cyberdefense, where she is able to continue her dedication to customers in the strategic security domain.