Cirrus CEO Dr Simon Hayward comments in The Economist.

Agility is such a modish word in modern management theory that it can seem as if the ideal corporate executive would be a combination of Spider-Man and Simone Biles, a gymnast. The concept has its roots in the idea of “lean management”, developed by Toyota in car manufacturing, and in the “Agile manifesto” drawn up by a group of software developers back in 2001.

Big software-development projects were (and are) notorious for producing costly, late and cumbersome results. The idea of agility was to focus on small, innovative and multi-disciplinary teams. Among the manifesto’s principles were that “individuals and interactions” were more important than “processes and tools”, and that responding to change was better than sticking to the plan.

Author Simon Hayward writes in his book, The Agile Leader, that the aim of agility is to bring the company as close to the customer as possible. Ideas can be tested on a small scale and abandoned if they fail to work. Feedback from the customer is essential at every stage. Teams work on small tasks in short cycles, achieving their immediate goal and quickly moving on to the next.

A recent article for the Harvard Business Review describes companies that have adopted an agile approach, including Bosch, a German electronics and engineering firm, USAA, an American financial-services company, and the health-information systems division of 3M, a multinational. Perhaps the most striking example is Saab, Sweden’s defence firm, which created more than 100 agile teams, covering software, hardware and the fuselage, to build its Gripen fighter jet. These firms have helped show that transforming groups into agile companies is possible.

Companies need to adapt to a world that is VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and this requires continuous innovation in order to keep up.

© The Economist 2018.

Read this article in full on The Economist website.

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