What is an Agile Environment? A Brief Guide with Examples

assembling puzzle

Agile project management principles can work for almost every kind of project for every kind of company in almost every industry. However, creating an Agile environment is not always simple. You may encounter resistance in your organization and need to prove the benefits. 

According to a McKinsey global survey from as recently as 2017, many respondents said that they had “not yet fully implemented Agile ways of working, either company-wide or in the performance units where they work.”

Clearly, implementing Agile is not simple. For this to work well, you need to know what an Agile environment is and how to create it, along with some examples of what that can look like.  

What makes an Agile environment?

According to the well-known software engineer and software development pioneer Jim Highsmith

“Agility is the ability to adapt and respond to change … agile organizations view change as an opportunity, not a threat.”

What does this mean in terms of an Agile environment? At its heart, an Agile environment is a company culture that encourages its project teams to adopt the principles and values of the Agile approach to project management. 

Another way to put this is that an Agile environment is one that is able to support the four pillars of Agile. In the context of software development, those four pillars are as follows:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

By supporting these four pillars, companies are able to accept and promote change, innovation, and process improvement. They understand different Agile frameworks and encourage essential Agile practices, such as planning in sprints and working collaboratively. 

Agile workplaces support their team members, trying to engage them. This is because the Agile mindset views engaged employees and customers as more important than following documented processes. 

In an Agile work environment, everybody works towards a common goal. Managers encourage and welcome new ideas from everywhere – including team members, customers, and other stakeholders. 

Clear, open, and transparent communication is key, which is why Kanban boards are often used in Agile organizations. Kanban boards are great for communication because their primary purpose is to visualize workflows in ways that everyone can understand at a glance, and which can be shared easily with multiple stakeholders. 

task management

Characteristics of Agile environments

There are several characteristics common to an Agile environment. These include:

  • A clearly articulated shared vision. Agile organizations aim to connect strategy to execution. Project managers and senior leaders try to ensure than their teams clearly understand the organization’s high-level vision and goals. This helps to ensure strong collaboration and a motivated workforce. Kanban boards can help to visualize operations at multiple levels.
Kanban board OKR template
  • Doing everything from the customers’ point of view. Agile teams regularly collect feedback from customers and clients in order to ensure the product meets the clients’ needs, even as they change.
  • Managing work instead of managing people. An Agile work environment encourages managers to focus on tasks and getting the work done and letting teams manage themselves in ways that will best help them complete it. Service Delivery Managers will track the workflow and help to assign resources accordingly.
  • Fostering true collaboration. According to the Agile mindset, great results come from motivated individuals rather than processes or tools.
  • A continuous improvement mindset. The practice of regularly revisiting, reviewing, and revising processes is at the heart of the Agile approach. This is also represented in the sixth core Kanban practice, which is why it’s good to make sure you know the 4 core principles and 6 practices of Kanban before you start using Kanban boards as an Agile methodology in your organization. 

Examples of Agile environments

Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Apple, and Salesforce are all organizations that rose to success by recognizing the importance of providing creative and collaborative infrastructure and spaces to help foster innovation and fuel productivity. Google is perhaps the most famous example of this amongst Silicon Valley tech firms. 

At Google’s Mountain View office, there are communal tables in open spaces that encourage stand-up meetings. Project rooms around the periphery of the building have tools for group workshops. There are also plenty of writable wall surfaces and display areas to encourage brainstorming sessions. 

Of course, Agile environments exist outside of Silicon Valley too. Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank recently implemented a new Agile continuous feedback program concerning staff performance. General Electric underwent a well-publicized Agile performance management overhaul in 2015. By implementing a “Check In” Agile performance management process in 2012, the company has since cut voluntary staff turnover by 30%, and saved 80,000 management hours annually through more efficient performance. 

How to create an Agile environment 

While remote or hybrid working can make this more challenging, one of the best ways to encourage an Agile environment is by making changes to the physical environment in the workplace. These changes include: 

  • Co-locating the team. A team that is able to hold face-to-face discussions in the same room is typically best placed to collaborate in an Agile manner. If remote working makes this impossible, it is still good to try and have the team collaborate physically once or twice a week in the office if possible. Teams distributed across geographies and time zones can take advantage of online collaboration tools such as Teamhood. 
  • Setting up a dedicated space for face-to-face collaboration. As the Google example (and others) have proven, having dedicated brainstorming and discussion spaces is essential for Agile collaboration. Make sure you have at least one room with white boards and pinboards. 
  • Cutting distractions. Any outside distractions can be lethal to the productivity of an Agile team. Instead, make sure your team avoids multitasking and works on one goal at a time. Let the team figure out who should work on what. Block any and all outside distractions, from devices to senior managers wandering in.  
  • Ensuring your team has the right tools to work with. Today, there are many productivity-enhancing tools that can help a team stay on track with respect to schedules, budget and resources. Teamhood provides a series of project management tools that you can check out here.

Ready to start using Agile tools in your organization? 

If you’d like to find out more about Agile and how it could work for your organization, check out our growing library of Agile content

If you’re specifically interested in finding out more about Kanban as an Agile methodology, take a look at our Kanban content

Or why not get in touch with us to see how Teamhood could help solve your Agile challenges?  

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