Using Agile to Run your entire company

Do you feel that innovation and speed are important to your company’s growth? Then agile software development principles should be applied to running your entire business.

Creating detailed tactical plans for months (and sometimes years) worth of work and then handing them off to your group of ‘doer’s’ is a sure way to stagnate and crush the innovative opportunities of your company.

Spending time on the vision of where to take your organization and engaging your employees in the creation of it is a very good use of time. Planning every step of the way is a waste of time.

At Total Attorneys we have created small teams in every department of our organization; we task them with high-level business objectives (that they often help shape) and give them the ability self-organize the execution of the work. These teams break down work into short time frames–never longer than a few weeks–and focus on results through iteration. Teams evaluate and then plan out the next few weeks of work.

The saying goes, ‘How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” We now have agile principles applied to HR, Sales, Call Center, Product Development, Accounting, Finance, and IT.

By working in short bursts and being agile we are able to:

• Focus on what is important now

• Adapt new product deployment in real time with our customers

• Enable employees to be creative and innovate, which results in attracting and retaining top talent

• Never head in the wrong direction for more than a few weeks

• Frequently evaluate and re-evaluate everything we do

• Change directions without organizational resistance or confusion, because we do this all the time

• Not get overwhelmed with our aggressive product role out and growth plans

• Move faster and have more fun than everyone else : )

Traditionally you need multi-year planning to keep your organization in lock-toe step with one another. Now technology has enabled organizational agility through collaboration and transparency. We have recently launched Jive Software’s SBS, formerly called Clearspace, to allow us scale our agility. Check out a great Fast Company interview with Cisco’s John Chambers on how the multi-billion dollar company is doing the same.

If you want to move faster than your competition and engage your work force in innovation, go agile.

19 Responses to “Using Agile to Run your entire company”

  1. Dan L. says:

    Agile also does wonders for morale. When a company or team is releasing live code and new products at a high frequency, it’s exciting and you feel like you’re getting things done.

    Plus, nobody wants to work on a project in which their hard work doesn’t see the light of day for 8 months.

    Great video!


  2. Lalit Kale says:

    Hi Ed!
    Appreciate your deep understanding of SCRUM!!

    The approach you have taken is fantastic!! The problem with other companies I see is

    1. Half baked knowledge of Agile practices
    2. Not aligning the agile practices to their own situation (without scarifying the core principles of Agile Manifesto) and trying to follow the book which ultimately leads to failure.
    3. Not enough staff is trained over agile practices…

    One more thing I would like to go over is “Agile = SCRUM” fiasco that everybody is trying to be ride on!
    There are several other beautiful agile disciplines or methods which are as powerful as SCRUM..FDD,XP,TDD are to name a few. But often people neglect them.

    Any thoughts you would like to share??

    Lalit Kale

  3. Jeff Steinberg says:

    Excellent Video Ed! Coming from a background where ‘waterfall’ project management is valued, adopting agile in the past year has been incredibly eye opening for me and the others I work with. Like you said, “it’s common sense” but to truly embrace it is a different story altogether. Your points could not have hit closer to home for me. Agile has transformed the way we develop products into something far more effective and meaningful. The difference is like night-and-day and the results back it up.

    Here’s an excerpt from the Agile Manifesto that nicely summarizes the ideas you described:

    We are uncovering better ways of developing
    products by doing it and helping others do it.
    Through this work we have come to value:

    - Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    - Working software over comprehensive documentation
    - Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    - Responding to change over following a plan

    That is, while there is value in the items on
    the right, we value the items on the left more.

    *It’s nice to see that you’re on the same page as the great agile thinkers of the world.


    - Jeff -

  4. Scott Danielson says:

    “It’s a common sense approach to managing something.”

    Hearing this is a breath of fresh air after working for companies that feel the need to plan, plan, and plan some more on how to attack a specific project.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been able to 100% follow the plans that my previous management teams laid out for me. They’re always unforeseen variables that come up along the way and require you to be flexible and change your path as you travel.

  5. Erin says:

    Working for Total Attorneys, I have experienced the agile transition in our company, and I can really see a difference in how quickly we are able to get projects out the door. It use to take ages for me to get a chance to work with a designer about making a change to the site. Now, the marketing department works more as a team to make sure everyone’s needs and wants are worked on.

    Our sprint meetings really help prioritize what needs to get done this week and what can wait. The teams don’t lose focus on projects that might not mean as much for the company as a whole.

    It also makes the people working within the different law areas feel more like a team. Instead of feeling our separate roles of writing for site, designing for site and managing ad campaigns for the site, we all three work to see how our jobs can work together to advance the site as a whole. I am more aware of what my other team members are working on, how I can help and how it will benefit our team. I now feel that my individual accomplishments are actually beneficial to the company as a whole.

  6. Nice video!

    As a writer here, I appreciate working closely with designers in short sprints.

    Prioritizing as a group allows for full collaboration (creativity boost!) and quick implementation.

    Going agile has also given each person a greater sense of accomplishment. Seeing projects quickly go live is also extremely rewarding.


  7. Nejat Sassounes says:

    Agile development is the key to having your business ride a future-proof wave. The ability to take a quick step in any direction, whether it be to jump out of a waning business model or into a creating the next hottest product, is incredibly valuable to the direction of the company as a whole.

    Additionally, I feel that the democratic method of project management that agile principles teach garners a natural feeling of reward and responsibility for employees on both a personal and a team level.

  8. Moeed Saeed says:

    The greatest value I see in agile is experiencing progress daily.

    Every day, I walk into the office, I find myself asking, how can I deliver value today? My team sees the opportunity to deliver the same value and cranks through its workload. Under traditional business principles, I find it much harder to motivate my team because they are so disconnected from the company’s goals. With agile processes, the team owns and commits to the work, so they are self-motivated.

    It takes a little leap of faith to actually implement, because, as managers, we are programmed to influence behavior through tightening controls. But, once you give up control and simply facilitate, the yield is much greater. The key is to constantly communicate and be “agile” enough to change direction on a dime. The results are astonishing.

  9. Ryan Burns says:

    I belive an agile approach provides a crucial key to a company’s success – adaptability. While this notion can lead to disarrary, with the right leaders and a clear goal this approach can reap huge dividends.

  10. Tristan Milner says:

    Moving from Waterfall project management to Agile has been a breath of fresh air for me and a wholly more intuitive discipline. As a project manager I feel liberated, free to flex and sprint, not bound by process or weighed down my cumbersome documentation.

    Its empowerment of team members is particularly rewarding (for me and for them), to see a team grow and express itself in short order is gratifying.

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  12. Bill Kenefick says:

    I agree, and I feel that the Agile method is further enhanced based on the direction the web and web-technology has headed. The concept of social-networking software, shared space and technologies I feel grease the wheels of an agile-driven company. Also, the benefits of having data, communication and tools shared online (and also archived) makes it easier to run production quickly and communally. In other words, we’re not buried in papers, or erasing each others whiteboards anymore!

  13. Kevin A. Buscemi says:

    Nicely put Ed!

    I think your insight is something that should and hopefully be the new module of business success. Staying on your toes and adjusting is the way to better success.

    What some fail to realize is that by the time you finish with that original plan, nothing is the same and everything has shifted; and now you’re either worse off or could be doing far better than you are currently.

    I understand business need plans, but keep them immediate. The plan that works today will most likely not work 5 years from now; maybe not even next year. The world is an ever changing place. So why waste that time planning? Keep those future plans to a minimum, stay on your toes, and instead of plan, plan, plan…adjust, adjust, adjust!

    I’m on aboard Mr. CEO:-)

  14. Beth Bond says:

    The kind of transparency you’re able to achieve working with the Agile business model is one of the biggest reasons I would see to switch over.

    Time lines are clearer and the improvement in communication amongst team members make sure everyone is on the same page and knows where the project is headed… or, should you need to switch tracks, everyone is ready for it at any time.

    Reading “Getting Real” is applicable to everyone. Whether you run a technology company or work in the sales/customer service industry, these methods improve day-to-day operations and empower you to take ownership of the projects you’re involved with.

    Only touched the tip of the Ice-Berg but am a fan of what I’ve seen and experienced so far!

    A Big shout out to 37 Signals and Ed to bringing this to Total!

    back to work…

  15. Agile in the Start up Phase:
    Agile is hands down the best management style we could have chosen for our new Total Practice Management Association, formed in late 2008. The start up phase of a company is a heavy undertaking for anyone to begin with. Trying to predict the future and plan into the years ahead for a product or organization is just not practical. Especially in the roller coaster economy we reside in today. Without true proof of concept or guarantee of profitability how can one plan resource allocation, and internal hierarchy when the business is in its infancy? Let alone feature requests that may not even be applicable to your audience once in use. We have found that by conducting daily “Team Huddles” working toward no more than 2-4 week long goal sets, allows us to re-prioritize on a daily basis, and take advantage of opportunities, and client feedback right when they arise, instead of waiting to work on new items until we are finished with what’s already on our plate. Team members feel empowered to enact change and run with new projects in this structure so less administrative approval is needed as that happens during daily meetings. Quality also improves because the team leaders feel a sense of pride and ownership in the end result.

    The processes we follow have allowed the Total Practice Management Association to breathe and grow to the size of an organization in it’s 2nd or 3rd year within months. Total PMA is less than 5 months old, holding the Get a Life conference for over 350 people 26 days from now, accompanied by the launch of a 40 page magazine, and membership numbers already climbing into the hundreds.

  16. Vanessa W. says:

    My favorite part of being part of an agile company is seeing quick results. By having short/focused sprints we are able to see tasks/projects finish relatively quickly without interruptions. Being agile also helped our team determine true priorities.

  17. Jon Olen says:

    I think that you are right that this really is the best way to run a business and my guess as to why more companies don’t try – it’s really hard. It really is a fine line between being agile enough to stay flexible and not turn into a workplace with no rules. Employees need to know what is expected out of them, but giving them specific guidelines just hinders creativity and the drive to develop great concepts when they are not “on the clock”.

    So it is not easy to create this environment, but if you can manage it really makes for a great company model because you get things done, can get them done with the most up to date ideas and technologies, and all while keeping your employees happy by giving them constant challenges and not setting a ceiling for success.

    And here I think Ed offers ideas on how to meet the challenges of this model, by being transparent. Total Attorneys is a great example of how to actually pull this off, and our current success just lends to the idea that you need to operate this way if you want to stay at the top of your class.

  18. This is great stuff, but give us some examples! I personally know the power that an iterative approach to product development and project management can deliver, but it would have been great if you would have cited specific examples demonstrating this.

    For example, I have seen how placing a software prototype in front of the customer on a monthly basis with each sprint drives clear communication, uncovers hidden requirements, and delivers a ton of value.

    Give us an example!

  19. Travis Weisleder says:

    Ed / Kevin,

    Glad to see that you have moved to the Agile approach and the book was a good read. I hope business is continuning to blossom for you all.

    Travis Weisleder

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