The state of Agile transformation amid a global pandemic

25 January 2021 5 min. read
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An Agile approach to working has proven more valuable than ever during Covid-19, throwing it into the spotlight for global businesses. A BearingPoint study presents the advantages, methods and challenges of Agile. 

The consulting firm surveyed more than 370 professionals from across the globe – half of which were business leaders in the C-Suite and otherwise. The goal: to examine the state of agile transformation at a time when it has moved from an operational nice-to-have to a strategic necessity.

“The current Covid-19 pandemic raises awareness of the low adaptability of organisations . For others, however, it is an affirmation of the need to rely even more strongly on the agile mindset and to expand agility even further within the organization,” noted Julia von Spreckelsen, a partner at BearingPoint in Germany and Head of its Agile Advisory practice.

Most popular Agile methods, frameworks, practices already in use

The good news is that the majority has embarked on their Agile journey, albeit within the last three years for some. When it comes to specific methodologies, the most popular one appears to be Scrum – a collaboration-focuised system that breaks projects down into sprints of two to four weeks, with a target outcome or product for each sprint.

A remarkable 76% of organisations have put their faith in the Scrum methodology. The second most popular method at 66% is Kanban – a collaboration framework featuring visual representation of tasks on a commonly viewed board, where team members can track and declare the progress of each task.

Design Thinking – a customer-focused method where various lateral approaches to problem-solving are explored and tested – is also a popular method among more than half of businesses. Other methods with notable usage include Design Sprints, Digital Prototyping and Lean Management, to name a few.

Advantages of Agile in a crisis and beyond

Advantages of Agile

So multifaceted Agile adoption is well underway, and many are recognising the advantages to such an approach – particularly in the context of a global crisis. Not surprisingly, the biggest plus noted by the respondents is the ability to react fast to changing customer requirements – a central repercussion of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 80% lauded this perk of Agile.

For over 70%, Agile is beneficial as it helps employees work independently – another crucial asset under the remote working paradigm. A further 60% applaud the continuous delivery of results under Agile, which can be a boon when everything else comes to a standstill.

More trust, better collaboration opportunities, faster decision-making and a more interdisciplinary approach to problem solving are other pros of embracing Agile ways of working. For many, these perks will remain valuable even after the economy has settled into a new rhythm. Indeed, only 2% of the survey respondents denied that Agile had any benefits.

What improvements have been achieved through Agile transformation

For the rest, the value of Agile is highly evidence-based, judging by the improvements within their own organisation. Well over half report an increase in flexibility, while around half have noted stronger customer-centricity in their operations. For well over 40%, Agile has delivered more speed and better transparency.

Around a third report simpler processes and better inter-divisional cooperation, topped off with around a quarter who think Agile makes their business more appealing for employees and job applicants. For 15%, Agile has actually produced visibly higher business value, with a direct bearing on profitability.

Based off these responses, Agile appears the way to go for most. Fair warning though, the approach is not without its challenges. Perhaps the biggest barrier is inertia – many organisations and business leaders are set in their ways. For instance, the majority might have adopted Agile methodologies, but 60% still struggle with bringing an Agile mindset and organisational culture.

Greatest challenges regarding Agile transformation

Challenges to Agile transformation

Several businesses still work in hybrid mode, where some projects are approached through Agile, while others take a more classic approach. The intersection between these two operationally contradictory methods is a core challenge for nearly half of all businesses. For nearly 40%, the problem is simply a lack of willingness to change amongst employees – sparked by a lack of Agile vision.

Most other challenges – lack of support from top management, knowledge-allocation within the organisation, and willingness for inter-divisional cooperation – have to do with the same lack of vision. Outside of this, some businesses struggle with budgetary, compliance and other technical issues when it comes to agile implementation.

At the same time, while these barriers exist, they are far from decisive in an organisation’s Agile journey. New solutions come up daily to tackle the technical side of things, while the myriad advantages of Agile are enough to transform organisational culture over time. Indeed, BearingPoint predicts that a whole range of sectors are poised to benefit from Agile transformation in the future.

Current and future relevance of agility by sector

Future relevance 

For now, the relevance of Agile is concentrated in a handful of industries. Tech-focused businesses such as management or IT consultancies and technology firms, for instance, stand to gain tremendous value from Agile, as clients and competitors alike are making rapid advances in the field.

Other fast digitalising sectors such as telecom, transport & logistics, automotive and banking are all nearing the cutting edge as well. Industries such as pharma, healthcare, health insurance, public administration and power supply find less relevance in Agile according to the researchers.

That being said, the report also points out that Agile will hold relevance for at least 80% of organisations across all these industries in the near future. For power supply – where only 36% of organisations find Agile relevant for now – this figure will touch 100% in the future. In short, the message from BearingPoint’s report appears to be that Agile is the future of working, and it is here to stay.