“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology—not the other way around,” Steve Jobs once famously quipped. But that was 17 years ago. Why have large corporates with big customer bases taken so long to catch on?

Customer experience trumps all else. In the digital age of instant information, competitors can replicate your product in the blink of an eye. To stand out, you have to engage with your customers and the community at large. Many companies still underestimate how much this defines their brand.

While this doesn’t necessarily qualify as news, a curious phenomenon persists: companies resisting the Agile approach necessary for a competitive level of consumer responsiveness. Many firms still insist on more rigidly structured and slow-moving Waterfall methodologies, and as a result, struggle to keep up with the ebb and flow of market demands.

Old dogs and new tricks

Granted, the inherent complexity would daunt anyone—and indeed deters the faint of heart. A successful initiative demands a confident team capable of true influence, and particularly so vis-à-vis large company boards. Their traditional mindset lends itself poorly to customer-centricity; bigger corporates often struggle to even sort out where to start. While recent customer-engagement successes have propelled others to follow suit, wide-scale change has yet to manifest.

Larger organisations also have to break down traditional thinking and champion Agile initiatives with larger and often more fragmented groups. Smaller businesses communicate internally more effectively, giving them a clear advantage.

But, no matter how much rolling out Agile and fostering it in your company may seem like a Sisyphean task, the high-change environment of today’s business world has made it a virtual imperative: Adopt agile or face redundancy.

In its CHAOS Manifesto, The Standish Group, widely considered the research leader in IT project and value performance, reported that Agile projects were three times more successful than non-Agile projects. “This year’s results represent the highest success rate in the history of the CHAOS Research,” say Jim Johnson, the group’s chairman, “We clearly are entering a new understanding of why projects succeed or fail.”

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It starts with people

Within a larger corporate, any Agile effort sinks or swims on the ability to earn people’s faith in it—specifically, your ability to make them believe that things can happen quickly while maintaining quality. Being able to provide a personal experience, something small, goes a long way in imparting its appeal and benefit. Here again, large corporates can take their cue from scrappier startups: Change impacts smaller businesses in more personal and visible ways, which has helped them make the case more directly.

Remember that Agile is not a technology principle: It is about people and behaviours. Expect resistance, often stemming from some of the old guard. Take the time to get everyone on board before you go live: Educating employees on the benefits of Agile goes a lot further than shoving it down their throat.

Conversely, bright minds in modern workplaces expect the freedom to work in an Agile environment. Fail to provide that and you may not only see yourself fall out of step with your market, but with your industry’s top talent as well.

While an Agile philosophy will not solve all of your organisation’s development needs, its capacity for flexibility, collaboration and customer-centrism provide immeasurable competitive advantage.After all, Jobs also remarked, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” You have to intuit their desires and concerns in advance and be nimble and fast enough to meet them before it’s too late—a demise that many large corporates will soon be facing.

About the author

Bridget Gray is the managing director of Harvey Nash Australia as well as the global Media, Digital and Communications practice leader. For the past decade, she has been involved in recruiting some of the world’s best technology and digital talent.
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