Agile business development is a rational response to the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous operating environment that prevails today.
In a world of disruptive innovation where the customer really does call the shots, opportunity and risk are everywhere.
So you have to find a competitive advantage by being agile. You can win if you speed up business development cycles, enter new markets early and enhance minimum viable products in-market with early adopters and influencers.
As a result, we are seeing both start-ups and established corporations working hard to get smarter at agile business development.
What is agile business development?
Agile business development uses agile working practices such as Kanban and Lean to rapidly improve existing manufacturing, delivery and service capability. Likewise, you’ll find agile techniques like Scrum innovating new products and bringing them to market quickly.
Most readers will be familiar with agile methods. If not, you might like to watch this short explainer video
However, agile business development is not just about using the agile methods first pioneered 2 decades ago in software development.
It is also underpinned by the agile mindset.
This is an inside-out, bottom-up approach to business development that places the customer at the centre of strategy and operations.
In addition, it gives autonomy to self-organising, cross-functional teams to work on projects that accelerate innovation and add genuine value for customers.
Moreover, these teams are encouraged to build and leverage networks and ecosystems to harness the power of partnerships and strategic alliances. This helps them to go faster and achieve more in pursuit of value creation.
When you think of companies that have broken the mould, they will often be skilled practitioners of agile business development.
Companies like Spotify, Netflix and Uber have come out on top through disruptive innovation built around a ruthless pursuit of meeting customer needs with ease, speed and at low cost.
When examining these success stories, it’s tempting to see agile business development as being the same as digital transformation or technology.
However, this would be wrong. It’s not the technology per se (that’s ever changing!) that makes the difference.
It’s the way agile companies harness the technology to drive more customer value, faster innovation, increased networking and viral marketing.
What are the keys to winning with agile business development?
More and more companies are rapidly becoming increasingly agile. They have to in order to survive in the fast-paced interconnected business environment of the 2020s.
In order to win in the age of agile business development you have to be more agile than your competitors.
Which means having a relentless focus on innovation and a passionate commitment to customer experience within a truly agile framework.
The key elements of this framework are:
- Build projects around motivated individuals working in small cross-functional teams. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done
- Remove bureaucracy, superfluous meetings, detailed documentation and onerous approval processes
- Break big projects and complex tasks into what Stephen Denning calls “small everything.” He advocates:
“Work should be done in small autonomous cross-functional teams working in short time cycles on relatively small tasks and getting continuous feedback from the ultimate customer or end-user. Big and complex problems are resolved by descaling them into tiny, manageable pieces”Stephen Denning – Author of The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done
- Develop a truly entrepreneurial culture throughout the organisation. Encourage individuals and teams to fail early and learn fast.
- Prototype, iterate and develop products and services in real-time with real customers. The aim is not to seek perfection but minimum viable products to enhance later based on customers’ needs and priorities
- Ensure that the entire organisation is responsive and adaptive to changing market demands
Getting started with agile business development
Agile business development is a journey not a destination.
Getting started may not be easy. Especially in larger organisations that have traditionally favoured systems, processes and controls and classic product lifecycle management.
If this is the case, it’s important to first establish the principles of agile.
Two tactics that can get the agile revolution off to a solid start are:
- Starting small
2. Partnering with others, inside or outside the organisation, who may have more experience of agile
In addition, you might also target known-pain points that typically hold up business development. If the agile approach leads to breakthroughs and quick wins this will encourage teams to go further with this new way of working.
Alternatively, you may decide to focus on entirely new areas where the company hopes to develop new business.
After all, prototyping and minimum viable products greatly reduce initial time to market. They also accelerate learning and future product enhancements.
Typically, success from starting small then naturally leads to rolling out agile business development to other teams across the wider organisation.
We’ve been living through the age of agile business development for some time now. The COVID-19 crisis has given it further impetus.
Agile business development is not about technology, data mining or digital transformation. These are all enablers.
It is about building an open, adaptive, responsive and collaborative organisation focused on driving innovation to meet customer needs and market demands.
The winners in the 2020s will be those companies that organise their business development around the customer and through the networks/ecosystems that deliver customer value rapidly in a constantly changing and always-on environment.