Faster time to market, quality customer experiences, engaged employees and disruptive competitive advantages – each of these core business goals can be boosted with agile working.
I spoke with Kelly Brown, Triquestra’s CEO, about the business case for agile and how it helps retailers tackle their most pressing problems to deliver value for their customers and people.
For more on becoming an agile retailer, see our earlier blogs on why retailers should adopt agile and why you need both stability and agility to innovate.
What made you first pursue agile working?
KB: We started agile in 2016 with four business goals: High quality software, fast product delivery, energised and engaged people, and tight client partnerships.
Agile has helped us meet all of these objectives. It has improved the way we innovate to deliver products faster and better, and we adapt more quickly to market demands. Plus our team and clients have been impressed by what we’ve achieved together so quickly.
While many of agile’s benefits are well understood, its impact on both internal and external partner relationships is sometimes less appreciated.
People often talk about building ‘partnerships’ with their customers but aren’t clear on what that actually means. When you think about any relationship, you don't expect it to go well all the time. Things do go wrong and when that happens, the key question you’ll have to ask yourself is: ‘Do we have the same goals and will we collaborate to fix the problem?’
If your customer relationship goes bad every time something goes wrong, then it’s not really a relationship. It’s a transaction.
Agile changes the engagement from transactional to collaborative. It’s a completely different way of working together.
What can retailers do to move from transactional to collaborative partnerships?
KB: For agile to succeed, both parties have to play an active part in building a successful collaboration. This is done by focusing on shared success, continuous learning and iterative processes. Our clients not only achieved this with the Triquestra team, but within their own organisations by bringing their own business and technology teams closer together.
These business stakeholders are now highly involved in every stage of our product development. The work is delivered by self-organising and cross-functional teams selected from across each client’s organisation and the Triquestra team.
And they operate as one team. Everyone jointly sets the goals, agrees what’s in or out of scope, makes decisions as one team and equally shares in project success.
What were some key learnings from your move to agile?
KB: One of our biggest learnings was that although agile is perceived to be totally flexible, it’s not. The process is actually very rigid and disciplined. Once you put agile methodologies in place, your build becomes automated, like a factory.
But scope, priorities and mindset with that methodology – is really flexible. And that’s what generates all the innovation, agility and value.
Mostly it comes down to ‘being’ agile rather than ‘doing’ agile.
And we are constantly working on how to take both our processes and thinking to the next level. Our commitment to continuous learning has seen us recently engage experts at Fr@nk Innovation and Transformation to help us with current best practice and continually evolve our approach.
What else needed to change?
KB: The impact on people is profound and your culture will need to change. While we were fortunate to start with a flat management structure and diverse team, it can be challenging for people to move to small, self-managing teams.
We found that some people find it easy to adapt to agile and some people don’t. It comes down to each individual’s willingness and desire to embrace change.
Agile isn’t for everyone. Some people just don’t like change or prefer to be task driven. We found that the most successful people take the attitude: ‘I'm empowered, I can get this done’ and ask what they need to do to succeed in their role and help others do the same.
Another big learning was how to select and deploy the systems and technologies you need to support agile working. Agile teams need high visibility and regular communication and this can put pressure on traditional time, tracking, financial and management systems.
What are the successes you’ve had with agile?
KB: It’s no coincidence that the winning retail brands we support – such as Z Energy, Cue Clothing and Fonterra’s Farm Source – are the clients using agile with us.
With a deep knowledge of each client’s business needs and very close working relationships, we’re delivering higher quality products with valuable features, faster.
Agile has also transformed our culture. Our people are more engaged, energised and, generally, far happier. Because we’ve adopted agile, our teams are empowered to make the best calls on products and services, they achieve things faster, and their relationships with clients are better.
That has improved our staff retention and talent attraction. In a recent internal survey, almost everyone said that they would recommend working at Triquestra.
Another exciting outcome is that our clients recommend us to others and nominate us for awards. For example, we were thrilled when a panel of industry experts assembled by Inside Retail awarded us runner-up 2019 Supplier of the Year.
What are the benefits retailers can anticipate if they move to agile?
KB: Our clients tell us they enjoy the same benefits we’ve experienced. Their teams are happier and more productive, with better engagement and retention, they have greater connections between their business and IT teams (and the Triquestra team), they spend less time testing and get products to market faster. And their customers are getting innovative new experiences, faster.
One client reduced its regression and UAT testing by 50 percent. That’s a massive saving in time and effort, which has driven down costs and is helping to meet evolving market and business demands.
What are the most common questions you get from retailers considering the move?
KB: All clients want to know if agile is going to cost them more. While upfront costs can increase, our clients’ internal costs dramatically decrease, resulting in overall cost savings. And the improved time to market means that they are unlocking revenue increases or cost savings faster, re-balancing the return on investment equation.
For example, the retailer I just mentioned acknowledged that while agile was going to result in more upfront spending on product development, this would be more than offset by those downstream savings they’ve achieved through reduced testing.
The other common question I get is ‘Am I going to be able to control the outcome?’. It’s an important question because an agile partnership does need a high level of trust. You’re going to move from a top-down hierarchy to a more horizontal, self-managing model. There’s still control – it’s just exercised in a different way, with the focus shifting from the process to the output.
And while agile generates short bursts of tangible outputs and regular outcomes, the end product is not going to be defined and costed upfront like a traditional, waterfall approach.
That's a big shift and one that doesn’t work for all organisations or even all projects. But for those that make the jump, agile will forever change the way they work and deliver fantastic new experiences for their employees and customers.
If you’d like advice on how agile can work within your organisation, get in touch. We’re continually evolving our approach to product development using the agile methodology and we’d love to help you deliver capabilities faster and better to meet your changing market and business demands.