4 reasons retailers should adopt agile

With constantly changing customer behaviours and expectations, and employee demands for more flexible and connected workplaces, it’s critical to become more agile to respond to digital challenges. How does agile work for retail? This series explains what agile is and how it can help you deliver products faster and better. We’re kicking things off with a look at why you need to think and act agile.

Many retailers still rely on product development practices that aren’t well suited to innovation. They’re hampered by traditional structures and what we in IT call “waterfall methodologies” that keep technology in a steady state to deliver a consistent and reliable experience. In fact, surveys report a 90 percent failure rate in traditional software developments that leave many retailers vulnerable and unable to keep pace.

In addition, customers now want more features and more personal attention and experiences. Employees want less hierarchy, better workflows and more customer focused ways of working. Meeting these expectations is a huge task with innumerable variables that are near impossible to predict.

To successfully nurture innovation, you need deeper collaboration between IT and customer experience teams, plus people with the right technological skills and digital experience.

So what do you do? You think and act agile.

Agile is an incremental, iterative development approach that gets you to your desired outcomes through communication and feedback between self-organising cross-functional teams. It comes with its own methodologies and ceremonies (eg sprints, standups, scrums and retrospectives) that you tailor to fit the way you think about customers and products.  

Agile has long been popular in IT, with the majority of development teams and projects now embracing the methodology.

Many of the world’s biggest digital companies were born agile, with Spotify a great example of a 100 percent agile company that has created a culture celebrated for a high level of empowerment and trust, a focus on personal development and a sense of purpose.

But it’s not just technology companies that use it. Traditional corporates across all sectors are transitioning their entire organisation to agile in a bid to improve the way they respond to customer needs, empower staff and improve productivity. Spark is a recent high profile example due to the scale and breadth of its approach. ANZ also used a ‘scaled-agile’ philosophy last year to move from a very hierarchical structure to a team-based approach to getting things done.

As a retailer, you too can make the move to agile’s iterative and collaborative processes if you’re seeking to innovate, deliver value quickly and adapt to market changes.

Here are the top four benefits your business can expect:

1. Increase ROI and decrease risk. Agile helps you deliver high-quality products with valuable features, faster. When your business success is defined by the quality of the customer experiences you offer, agile’s early product validation and more frequent product releases decrease your risk and increase customer satisfaction.

For example, Cue Clothing has built a disruptive competitive advantage using agile processes and a unified commerce platform to deliver a raft of innovative offerings. It was not only the first Australian bricks-and-mortar retailer to provide nationwide 3-hour delivery, it got the service going in record time, with shipping platform Shippit saying that a process that takes most retailers six to 12 months to complete, was implemented by Cue in only one.

2. Innovate with speed and pace. In agile, empowered teams make decisions on products and services quickly and get on with what’s next. In a report from last year, the number one reason for choosing agile was to ‘accelerate product delivery’.

ING Bank has become a poster child for agile after reinventing its organisation from the ground up, moving from a traditional organisational model to a completely agile model that shares much in common with Spotify. The new structure and way of working has enabled ING to dramatically improve speed-to-market through more frequent releases, and increase the rate of innovation to help position it as the primary mobile bank in the Netherlands.

3. Create a productive and engaged culture. Agile breaks down silos to foster more enjoyable working relationships, better communication and more efficient use of people and resources. Instead of top-down vertical management, you have a horizontal collaborative model that can focus on delivering value for users and consumers.

When people work in an agile environment, galvanised around a customer mission, they are more engaged. Spark’s employee net promoter score has lifted by 9 points since September 2017, despite the disruption caused by their move to agile.

4. Enjoy true partnerships. Many vendors and retailers talk about 'partnership' but it's difficult to achieve true collaboration in a traditional hierarchy. Agile lets you extend your in-house team and really leverage your vendor’s strengths.

Our agile teams include developers, analysts, consultants, project managers and product owners selected from across each client’s organisation and the Infinity team. That means our customers are highly involved in every stage of the agile process, reviewing the product at every phase and making suggestions for improvement.

Now that you’ve seen what agile can do for your business, it’s time to look at how to become an agile retailer. Keep an eye out for our next blog on this topic.

To grow and innovate, you need a partner with the technology, people and processes to move fast and cultivate an environment in which agile innovation flourishes - to think different, act different and achieve success. We have many years of experience in product development using the agile methodology. Contact us for advice on how agile can work within your organisation.

For more on how to give your retail business the flexibility and agility you want, download our ebook.