How Agile Management Helps with Running a Small Business
Running a small business is hard. You are employer and employee, seeing the forest while running through the trees. You handle the day to day operations, the administration of programs, and the top level execution that ensures your company is succeeding. How is one person supposed to handle all that? The Agile Management system designed for software development offers a way.
The software industry struggled with one serious issue. By the time the software was built, it could potentially be obsolete. The problem was, things changed so fast that without feedback from the world around them, they went off-course by staying the course. Small business management now suffers a similar issue with the increased rate of change in the world.
Today, a small business must be nimble and flexible to the changing markets. Just 10 years ago, cell phones were considered only for the rich, social media was limited to MySpace, and daily deals were only found at the grocery store. Much has changed and keeping on top of all of the changes while maintaining the inertia of the business is a challenge.
How did the software industry tackle this challenge? By developing the Agile Manifesto that transformed the top down plan-oriented approach into a bottom up responsive approach. Three of the four principles of the Agile Manifesto work great for small business support, but the one specific to small business management is; responding to change over following a plan.
For generations we have been told to start a business with a business plan and follow it without deviation. This helped us to maintain our direction while attending to the many things that vie for our attention. The problem is, like with the software industry, the small business environment changed too. From customer support that moved into the social realm, to crafting high level customer experience through customer loyalty programs, we quickly found that our plans didn’t actually reflect the reality the businesses we’re in, so we needed a more responsive approach.
One methodology that came out of the Agile movement is scrum. Taken from a rugby process where a group huddles together and moves forward to gain possession of the ball, it is a perfect name for what it does in agile management. Scrum is a process of moving tasks forward in an increasingly efficient way to achieve goals. Yes, you can maintain a vision for where your company is going, but you get there through the process of daily activities and this method helps keep it organized and forward moving.
Before you can scrum, you need a backlog. The backlog is a list of the things that need to be done, all of them. Having a backlog is very important. When you think of something you need to do, your mind will tie up your mental resources holding on to it. When you have a place to put it down, your mind can let go and free you up for the immediate tasks at hand. Even just creating a backlog is a powerful way to create mental clarity.
Having your backlog tasks organized on cards and categorized in columns is important for keeping your todos organized. Asana is a a great task management tool for creating and managing a scrum using their boards feature, and it’s free. Organize the columns by categories that make sense to you. For instance, our blog backlog has column for “small business support”, “repeat visits”, “customer experience strategy” and other similar columns by topic. You can use their tagging feature to tag items for priority, difficulty, etc. Knowing the difficulty of tasks is important for the next part of the scrum process, the sprint.
When you have a backlog filled with all the things you need to do, your mind will be clear and ready to tackle the items one at a time. The sprint is the process for executing clusters of tasks and is accomplished by taking items from the backlog and placing them into a sprint board where they will be worked.
Like the backlog, the sprint board is organized by column, but unlike the backlog, the columns reflect the journey to task completion, not the category. The columns are usually labeled, ready to start, in progress, waiting on, and complete. There is often also a retrospect column where you can analyze all of the tasks after a sprint is complete to see what your execution rate is.
The sprint is mostly self-explanatory. You move items from one column to the next as you are working on or have completed them. Each sprint should be what can be completed in a short period, like a week or two, but not more than a month. The key to execution of the sprint is taking time with yourself or your team to meet daily. The meetings should be very short, about 15 minutes where each item, about to be started, in progress, or just completed is looked at. The 3 questions that need to be asked are
- What got done yesterday?
- What is getting done today?
- What is in the way of getting it done?
These 3 questions hold yourself, and/or each person on the team accountable for completing tasks. When we are held accountable on a daily basis, rarely does anything not get done, and if it doesn’t, everyone knows why. This is very effective at keeping everyone on track and surfacing issues before they can ruin a project. When we find problems, they can be quickly corrected to keep forward momentum. The daily meets also have the ability to produce a culture of productivity within a company.
When a sprint is complete you will want to do a retrospective on the completed tasks in the sprint to analyze what worked, what didn’t, how much got done, and if any issues came up that need to be addressed. After the analysis, implement the changes that need to be made and move on to the next sprint. Over the course of a few sprints, you will see the level of execution rising and soon you will be able to manage your business with a clear head and incredible efficiency.
We all know that running a business is hard. Having the tools and the processes for managing all the things a business owner needs to do is a must. Agile management, although designed for software development, is a great way to get all the things done and still have clarity of mind for enjoying life while doing it.