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The agile process: smart steps to increased productivity

The agile process has helped IT departments and software development teams work more productively since the early 2000s. But did you know that same approach may be the key to improving your own organization’s performance?

Meeting after meeting after meeting has become such a staple of the workday world that you’re probably squeezing in a few minutes between meetings to read this blog post.

Incessant meeting requests not only clog your inbox, but they become a bottleneck to progress and productivity. Do you and your employees find yourselves missing deadlines (or working late to meet them) because you’re spending all your time in meetings? Are multiple meetings generating additional work on top of what’s already been assigned?

Are you and your employees struggling to keep projects on track? Do you wish you had more time to devote to projects that require your input and approval? Wouldn’t it be great if every employee had the time to dedicate more brain power to their assignments before having to dive in, feeling unprepared?

It’s time to stop the madness. Reduce the number of meetings you (and your employees) are involved in. Restructure the way your team works. Learn how an agile process might be exactly what your employees need to get energized, ignite their performance and boost productivity.

Here are seven steps to help you get your team on track to a better workday with agile project management.

1. Promote an agile environment

An agile work style may be new to you. Although the concept originated in the IT world, according to a Harvard Business Review article, mainstream work environments are also beginning to embrace agile innovation methods. This may be just what your team needs to work more efficiently.

Agile work cultures focus on performance and quality over strict processes and adherence to “the plan.” The goal is to eliminate barriers that prevent objectives from being achieved.

Agile employees respond quickly to changes and work together as a team, versus individually, to find the best solution for challenges or obstacles. When problem-solving is no longer considered a solitary assignment, it paves the way for out-of-the-box thinking and, quite often, unique approaches. As a result, problems usually get solved faster and better.

The emphasis is on getting the work done, and done well, while creating a roadmap with clear expectations of who does what by when. This allows work to move forward without the bottlenecks created in a traditional “waterfall” work environment, where employees work in silos before passing their work on to the next phase of project development.

2. Plan daily status checks

This is an effective way to ensure that all your team members have the information they need to do their jobs. Employees meet at a regularly scheduled time each day to share what they’ll be working on that day and how much work they should be able to accomplish.

Daily status meetings keep projects moving. They provide the perfect forum for updating everyone and shifting priorities and workloads as needed. Team members know when to expect finished tasks, and everyone stays informed about the scope of work being performed.

For example, if someone is getting slammed with work, other team members with lighter workloads have the opportunity and the freedom to offer help. It’s as simple as letting their more loaded-down coworkers know they have time available to pick up extra tasks, something that doesn’t often happen in siloed environments.

As a result, employees enjoy a more balanced workload, which helps prevent burnout. Work becomes more enjoyable, and it paves the way for employees to bond as a team.

Bonus tip: Try “stand-up” meetings where no chairs are available. When participants don’t sit, or have easy access to cell phones or laptops, they’re less likely to multi-task and are better able to focus on the subject at hand. Standing also encourages creativity and participation – and shouldn’t be too uncomfortable since most stand-ups typically last half an hour or less.

3. Schedule no-meeting zones and times

You’ll never be able to completely do away with meetings. But you’ll be the office hero if you reduce the number of meetings by having rules around when meetings can occur.

Just as you schedule daily status checks, schedule time for workflow. This should be a block of uninterrupted time during the day for your employees to accomplish their tasks – time for both collaborating and concentrating. Consider this their quiet time, and don’t phone them, don’t stop by their workstations to chat, and don’t allow meetings to be scheduled during this time block.

Then, pick another timeframe during the workday for employees to schedule meetings when they need them. You’ll probably find that fewer meetings are scheduled, and those that are, tend to be shorter and more productive.

Scheduling is easier when the workday is structured in chunks. Status update time doesn’t vary, workflow time doesn’t vary, and everyone’s meeting block is the same. That doesn’t mean, however, that the entire organization or department should be included in all meetings. It just means that if a team does need to have a meeting, it should be scheduled during the universal blocked time.

4. Be strategic about your meetings

Start by deciding if there needs to be a meeting at all. If you don’t have a clear objective, ax the meeting. You can also help ensure everyone gets the most from your meetings that are necessary by requiring an agenda that lets everyone know what will be discussed.

Don’t broadcast invitations like grass seed – that’s breeding ground for useless meetings. And it goes against the grain of an agile environment. Ask stakeholders who should be involved.

If others need to know what goes on in a particular meeting, send an email afterward with essential information or meeting notes. It saves everyone time and keeps your meeting list short.

Bonus tip: Outline the questions you need stakeholders to answer and send them an email before the meeting with your questions, the agenda and expected outcomes.

5. Change the way your meetings work

Keep your meetings short, and stick to the agenda that you provide participants ahead of time.

Your goal is to allow your employees to get their work done, not spend their time sitting in meetings. Make it clear what the meeting goals, objectives and milestones are so that everyone leaves with information to help them complete a project or reach a milestone.

Nothing is worse than leaving a meeting and thinking, “What was that about? I could have been accomplishing something instead of sitting in a meeting that didn’t apply to me.”

You might even decide that the best meeting isn’t a formal meeting at all. Sometimes, it’s easy enough to IM, email or text someone to see when they’re available for a few minutes. Then pick up the phone and take care of business the old-fashioned way. You get things done and save yourself and others from another unnecessary meeting.

Bonus tip: Try to limit chat, email and text communication to blocked meeting times, so you don’t interrupt anyone’s workflow.

6. Give your employees more control

In agile work environments, the emphasis is not on managers as much as it is on your employees owning their work.

Adopting an agile process allows everyone in your organization to step up and be a servant leader, regardless of title. Employees across the board are empowered to help each other work more efficiently by prioritizing and shifting work as needed, together.

Agile cultures have fewer hierarchies and bureaucracies. The focus is on eliminating barriers that block the way to achieving goals and objectives. Employees have more leeway and more freedom to do their jobs, which leads to greater job satisfaction.

Alternative work arrangements, like remote work and flexible scheduling, lend themselves well to the agile process. Technology makes it easy to bring together people, processes and connectivity, minimizing the need for physical presence in an office setting.

7. Make agile work for your business

Agile project management is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. You and your team will need to pick and choose the components of agile methodology that fit your organization. Then, together, you can create the work environment that best suits your organization and company culture.

Transforming your work environment based on agile principles, however, should be worth the time and effort it takes to get there. Over time, you’ll likely see increased productivity and efficiency, as well as reduced costs and improved working relationships – both among your employees and with your clients.

If you’d like more ideas on how to build a stronger, more productive and engaged workforce, download our free e-book, The Insperity Guide to Employee Engagement.