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Identifying Quick Wins During the Agile Transformation

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Quick wins are ways to demonstrate the strength of an agile mindset over that of a traditional mindset. This lesson explains how to identify and seize on quick wins that will prove the agile paradigm to stakeholders.

Agile as a Path, not a Destination

Correctly leveraging the power of agile transformation is contingent upon an appropriate understanding that agile is a road rather than a destination. It isn't something an organization becomes; it's what they are.

If you're already a business leader, you've probably already experienced the frustration that can come from this misunderstanding. You might have heard it in a question something like, 'So when will we know we're agile?' Perhaps even worse, 'How much will it cost to become an agile organization?' These questions come from stakeholders who have only minimal understanding of what it means to be an agile organization, so quick wins are one way to provide stakeholder's with a clearer picture of what it means to be agile.

Quick Wins

In fairness to skeptical stakeholders, you'd probably be a skeptic too if someone proposed a transformation with no timeline, budget, or even definitive sign of success. Imagine shopping for a new, high-end business copier/printer and listening to sales pitch from someone who couldn't demonstrate the best of the machine's features on demand. Instead, the salesperson says something like, 'Trust me. Lots of businesses use this machine, and they tell me it works well.' That probably wouldn't fly too well, right?

It's only natural that people investing time or money in something want to know what their resources are going to bring them in return. But an agile transformation takes time, and without a defined end point, agile leaders must be aware of the need to demonstrate results early so that stakeholder support is quickly captured and maintained.

Identifying Candidate Processes for Quick Wins

Quick wins are one way to earn genuine support for agile--even if it isn't properly understood just yet. Quick wins have these important qualities:

  • They are relatively high-profile pain points (which are places in which a process is currently flawed).
  • They're problems or pains big enough to be worth fixing.
  • Fixing them doesn't require a Herculean effort or lots of resources.
  • Solving them without an agile mindset would be obviously less efficient, effective, or permanent.

Great quick wins are significant problems that are easy to solve.
Quick Wins

Examples of Quick Wins

Technically, quick wins can come from just about any area of an organization assuming that they meet the criteria we just covered. However, some business processes tend to be more troublesome than others. The impact of this is that your starting point to find these quick wins can be looking in areas similar to these examples.

Recapturing Lost Customers

In an effort to make the most of scarce resources, business leaders make decisions every day that alienate a small group of customers in favor of pleasing larger ones. Although this isn't wrong, it's one of the most obvious places to look for an agile quick win. Let's go back to our printer/copier example for a moment. The traditional mindset says, 'The features on this machine need to please our biggest customers.'

In contrast, the customer-centered agile mindset is something more akin to saying something like:

'What exactly do our small customers ask for that we can't currently provide? Is there any way we could put these features into the machine for a maximum return on a minimal effort?'

In this case, a quick win would be finding a way to slip some of these features into the machine in order to recapture some of the lost customers. Nothing proves the value of an investment as strongly as recapturing a customer who had previously found a product or service so lacking that they walked away for a different vendor.

Finding a Real Solution to a Pesky Pain

If you were to fall down and break your ankle, it's likely that you'd have a bit of trouble getting around. One option would be to go see a doctor and get the ankle fixed. Another cheaper option, however, would be to grab a walking stick so that you could hobble around without paying for the services of a physician. We all know why this doesn't work. The doctor fixes the ankle, but the walking stick is just a crutch. In business, this 'crutch' is known as a work-around. Work-arounds occur when the root cause of a problem hasn't been fixed, so employees try to hobble around it using an inefficient process.

When one of these work-arounds is well-known, finding a permanent solution can be a quick win. If you're selling business copiers or printers, an exaggerated example of the customer-centered agile approach might sound something like:

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