The concept of “Agile” was developed in the field of Software Development. It emerged when the field was dominated by traditional heavy weight approaches which were rigid in the development process and therefore were slow in reaction to changing market demands or customer requirements. Although, the practice is widely used in software development, its process is now making inroads into other industries mainly due to the ever increasing uncertainty in the business environment.
Agile practices are a set of engineering best practices that allow for rapid delivery of high-quality product/services, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals in an efficient manner. In project management terms, it generally promotes a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability.
One of the main characteristics of the Agile methodologies is its iterative approach. Agile practices do recognize failure and the ability to learn from it as a part of the process. When pursuing innovations a company hardly gets it right the first time or the second time or the Nth time. What matters is the persistence of the company and its efforts to continue exploration. Therefore, the innovation management process has to be iterative by nature because highly disciplined execution is likely to crush innovation.
An Innovation Strategy may be composed of a number of strategic lines, comprising several innovation objectives. Achievement of each innovation objective should be an iterative process. This process starts with the scheduling or planning of a number of activities and milestones in a short period of time (Small Releases). These activities (proposal of ideas, elaboration of prototypes, etc) are performed and validated (Testing) and the feedback is used to rework the ideas, prototypes or whatever action that has been previously validated ensuring it still fulfils the original requirements (Refactoring).
Examples of how an iterative approach can also be applied in an innovation process could be:
- Proposing & Prioritizing ideas in an iterative fashion until the most promising candidates are selected to become projects.
- Applying the iterative approach in the Implementation of the idea by proposing prototypes until a final version of the product, service or process improvement is validated
Another important aspect of agile practices is the collective ownership and group work. An innovation is seldom an individual act. Although, it can be attributed to a single individual, it often involves multiple actors who help refine the ideas, implement them and so forth. Therefore, an organization which wants to have an innovative culture has to be ready to accept the failures in the process without blaming its employees and should take collective ownership of success as well as failures. Such a culture fosters collaboration and team spirit.
Empowerment is another agile value which is relevant in innovation management. In agile practices, the team reports directly to the customer and not the manager, the team also estimates how much time work will take, the team decides how much work it can do in an iteration and also how to do the work in the iteration. Such an empowerment to frontline employees provides them the levers to bring about necessary changes in time without waiting for the time-intensive bureaucratic process.