It is present almost daily in social media, TV and the press: “agile working” is a hot topic. Other buzzwords include: “World of work 4.0,” “Agile project management,” or “Agile software development.” These are concepts that we have to address in the modern working world. In addition to digitalization, the main objective is to be able to implement work processes and new projects more flexibly and quickly – and this requires agility. How can I as an employee or as a company react effectively and swiftly to changes?
Respond flexibly to new challenges
The prestigious Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon (Business Encyclopedia) defines agility as follows: “Agility is the dexterity, adaptability or mobility displayed by organizations and individuals or in structures and processes. It is the ability to react flexibly to unforeseen events and new requirements. When it comes to change, for example, the approach is not just reactive but also proactive.”
In my job as IT demand manager, agility has been a topic I have dealt with repeatedly in recent years. Almost every project should be and wants to be agile; reacting flexibly to new or additional requirements is a must. A new project management tool is to be introduced: it has to be agile, of course. The same applies to drafting the new company brochure. What about adapting the existing ticketing system to the needs of foreign branches? An international project. Of course, that needs to be agile as well. Job 4.0 means agile living and working all the time, right? Is agility the silver bullet for all problems? Or is it born of necessity? And is it really so new?
Agility – a must in voluntary work
In addition to my job at TÜV Rheinland, I have been actively involved in animal welfare for 15 years. It may sound a bit over the top – but being agile really is the only way when it comes to animal welfare and volunteering in general. In contrast to corporate projects, voluntary initiatives often lack money – most associations are dependent on donations – and resources. A dog is abandoned at the motorway service area. Who can pick it up and go to the vet? We need more donations. Who takes care of new flyers, or a fundraising drive on the website or on social media? Who is responsible for organizing and coordinating the big summer party? A thousand questions and tasks – and the challenge always is to find someone at short notice who has a short-term solution or can take care of the job. You can’t do this without agility.
Last year I organized a fundraiser for Romanian street dogs. A small animal shelter in the middle of Romania had sounded the alarm bell. Everything was missing: warm blankets to protect the poorly assembled huts of the dogs from the cold winter in Eastern Europe; food, of course, because the strays are hungry; but building materials or discarded, yet functioning washing machines and dryers were urgently needed, too. All of this had to be in Romania as quickly as possible. So what now? How’s that supposed to work at short notice? The magic word, as so often, was agility (which could also be replaced by improvisation).
In such voluntary activities, one person often takes on the role of both product owner and scrum master (in this case comparable with the roles of the project leader and the person responsible for content). And that person might also act as the sponsor of the entire project as well. There is no time for adequate requirements engineering or weekly sprints or clearly defined work stages. Everything is a single sprint, especially since everything has to take place in what is a limited amount of free time.
Unleashing unknown powers
Professional life, in contrast, is all about plannability and regularity. Project manager, scrum master, project sponsor and, above all, the project team – everything is defined before the start. In comparison to my voluntary “work”, this is almost paradise. I have often wished to have such a defined and structured framework for my voluntary work – especially since it is mostly about survival, and every action not taking place might cost life. The positive side of the coin is that through this “pressure” to save lives or help living beings, unknown powers are very often unleashed, new processes are evolving almost automatically, and resources and abilities of people emerge that would never have been recognized without these conditions.
A nice mix of professional and voluntary agility – that would be it! This is why I try to let my professional and my volunteering life “learn from each other” so that I can get the best out of both.
To answer the question asked above: No, agile working is not a new phenomenon. But is has made massive inroads into the working world and is gradually being optimized and supported by really good software tools – such as Trello or JIRA, which is used at TÜV Rheinland.