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How Being Agile Can Help Your Company Win in the Post-Covid Economy

Amid the unprecedented economic uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing is becoming clear. To survive – and even thrive – in the post-Covid economy, companies will have to be faster than ever in responding to change.

As yet, we can only surmise how quickly customers will book air travel again or how soon they will return to places like shopping malls. But there is already a marked shift in consumer behavior, with growing demand for touch-free payments, online sales and contact-free deliveries. These are likely only the tip of an iceberg of adjustments that will impact everything from how companies compete for sales, to which technologies they use, what their physical footprints look like and how they manage their supply chains.

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What will separate those companies that continue to lead and those that falter is their ability to rapidly react to changing circumstances and bring new ideas to the marketplace. A proven way to do this is through the agile process. First created in the software industry around 20 years ago, the agile methodology is widely seen as the innovation engine that drives Silicon Valley’s success, and it has now been adopted by many companies beyond the tech sector. Regardless of a company’s industry or size, the agile process begins with putting customer needs first and building multidisciplinary, flexible teams that can quickly respond to change. These agile teams engage in a constant loop of ideating, building, testing and refining that enables them to quickly adjust products and services to meet changing customer expectations.

Deployed as part of a company-wide commitment to innovation, an agile approach can be transformative. Here are four key ways to build agility into an organization – and future-proof it against an increasingly uncertain economy.

Get the Ideas Flowing

Big, disruptive ideas may grab the most attention, but those come around less often than the ones that lead to incremental changes. Both continuous improvement and disruptive ideas can have a dramatic impact on your company’s bottom line. Instead of waiting for a breakthrough concept to appear, aim to capture as many thoughts as possible, as some may lead to substantial revenue increases. That has been the case for Honeywell, a major manufacturer. Recognizing the importance of continuous innovation, the company created a process for discovering and supporting ideas from across its business that could lead to both new and improved products. It was able to turn an idea for a robotic device that an employee had while raking his yard into a product that generated $8.5 million in revenue because its innovation process allowed it to capture such notions quickly and easily.

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Be Bold and Experiment

A crucial part of the agile methodology is that it encourages experimentation by emphasizing building and testing features quickly. Now is the perfect time for businesses to embrace this approach and open the door to a wider range of possibilities than they might have considered before. Indeed, many are doing so and encouraging their employees to come up with innovative solutions to pressing challenges. The vital thing, however, is to put systems in place that allow these ideas to be quickly evaluated, and rapidly advance the best ones to the experimental stage where they can be tested. The results of these tests should be shared widely, so that everyone can learn from both the successful and the not-so-successful experiments. Embracing failure can be the hardest part of the innovation process, but it is an essential one – it’s just another step towards success.

Bring in Collaborators

At a time when huge numbers of people are speculating about how a “new normal” might look, those companies that collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders are most likely to detect new opportunities quickly. Strategic partnerships with universities and startup hubs are powerful ways for companies to keep their finger on the pulse of new technologies. But less formalized approaches like innovation jam sessions and competitions modeled on Shark Tank can be good ways to bring in people and ideas from outside your organization. These relationships with partner organizations can lead to important opportunities. For instance, Hollister Incorporated, a healthcare company, reacted to the pandemic by looking for ways to help deliver personal protective equipment. Through its internal innovation processes, it identified a material from one of its products that could be used by a partner organization to build life-saving N-95 face masks.

Spread Agile Innovation Throughout the Business

While rapid experimentation has its benefits, companies with mature innovation processes are those most likely to thrive over the long term. Many companies are held back because they silo innovation to specific initiatives, teams or time periods. Instead, build a robust process that will move the best ideas through an organization and allow them to get the support and funding they need to develop. Be sure to tie that process to your company’s overall strategic goals. To remain an innovator for years to come, your company needs not only to discover great ideas but to pursue them.