Why small ventures need business agility

6 min read
Tristan Wright

Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify are four of the hottest and most successful companies of the modern era. All four have something else in common: They are all models of business agility.

Since they pulled together their unique selling point (USP) and entered the start-up phase, these four companies have been operating with the agile methodology.

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You can act big even if you’re small

It’s not uncommon to hear how large companies and corporations are spending huge money each year chasing business agility. It’s understandable, as every business leader wants to be a runaway success like Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify.

Initially created for software designers, the agile methodology has become a business buzzword.

But the fact is, most ventures don’t have the budget to implement enterprise-level agile and have teams of scrum masters overseeing successive stages of product development (aka sprints).

So it makes sense why many small business owners don’t see how business agility applies to their micro ventures and much smaller budgets.

For me, the real lesson to take away from these four companies is how:

  • They used the agile mindset even in a start-up with a limited budget
  • Agile has helped them scale to epic global proportions

If they can be agile from day one, so can you with your small business.

What is the agile methodology?

Woman Working on Laptop Next to Window
The agile mindset has spread beyond software development to a variety of business processes.
Photo: Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Agile and its associated terms like ‘scrum master’ and ‘sprints’ have become buzzwords in recent times and often leave people (or employees) thinking it’s a cunning plan by management to get staff to do more for less.

At its heart, agile is a system to work more efficiently.

According to Isaac Sacolick, contributing editor of enterprise technology publication InfoWorld, Agile was officially launched in 2001 when 17 technologists drafted the Agile Manifesto.

Together they wrote the four guiding principles for agile project management, with the goal of developing better software.

These principles are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software is more important than comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

To break it down further, the agile methodology is an approach of managing software design that enables IT teams to quickly respond to changes and pivot in building solutions.

But as Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify indicate, the agile methodology has now gone beyond just tech teams and permeates through finance, marketing, HR and other internal teams.

Related: How to be more productive — 7 easy steps to follow

Why business agility matters to small ventures

Person Picking Up Pastry with Tongs
All kinds of businesses use agile thinking to increase efficiency and improve quality.

The success of the agile methodology comes down to 17 people thinking creatively about how to attack a problem in a different, more user-friendly way.

I’m sure in the course of their work, these 17 technologists dealt with roadblocks that stalled their ability to get work done. Blockers, they’re called. So, they devised a plan to smash through the barriers they faced.

Providing a solution to a pain point is the marker of every great idea turned prominent business.

That’s the lesson small businesses owners need to learn from the agile methodology.

In an unpredictable business environment, small businesses need to:

  • Offer innovative solutions to the challenges experienced by their target market
  • Implement measures internally that allow them to remain viable and operate efficiently

You might not be able to flout social distancing rules and huddle together as a team in front of a whiteboard, but with a little forward thinking (e.g. an agile mindset) you can devise strategies to counteract any obstacle that gets in your way. Like the agile methodology, if the solution is needed in the marketplace, it might just be needed the world over.

In a global environment, small businesses are not limited to supplying products or services to customers near them. Doing this successfully requires an agile mindset.

An agile mindset can even see you through a pandemic

As an example, I business coach clients in Melbourne (where I’m based), across the rest of Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada and Singapore. And I have staff members who work for me in Southeast Asia.

When COVID-19 hit, we were relatively unscathed as we’d long been functioning with an agile mindset. Given the distance between customers and staff, we conducted meetings via video technology and communicated through apps like Slack and Notion.

We’ve never had agile consultants work with us to streamline what we do.

Laptop Showing a Man on a Video Conference

We simply looked at all areas of our small business and identified what needed ‘new thinking’ to enable us to continue to service our customers and keep remote staff invested in our vision and mission.

Business agility is popular at the moment and I suspect it will be for some time. That’s because it’s getting results for both companies and staff. And of course, it’s been adopted by Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify, which has given it a glamorous appeal.

The bottom line

If you remove the buzzwords and the high-tech image of agile, it boils down to simply looking at a persistent problem and putting in place a framework to deal with it effectively. If staff across the entire business implement the approved framework, it will allow both the business and employees to grow and prosper.

The lesson here is not that small ventures need to copy what large companies and corporations are doing. To do so would be to follow others and by the time you got there, these large companies would have moved beyond this stage — that’s forever playing catch up.

Instead, it’s more about looking at a problem (like a pandemic) not as a barrier but as an opportunity to be agile. The goal is to put in place a more user-friendly strategy that provides a solution to the problems you and your customers experience.

Ultimately, that’s what separates a small business from a highly successful operation.