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Agile Business Modeling for Small Businesses

5 min read • Apr 04, 2021 • Derek Miller

Prior to the pandemic, agility was already on track to become one of the top professional buzzwords of the past decade. Then COVID-19 struck, and businesses were left with no other option but to pivot based on changes to their industries and the shifting consumer landscape.

For many small businesses, agility is often desired but not easily implemented. It’s a luxury meant for tech giants in Silicon Valley. However, agility is more than some integrated technology reserved only for the elite enterprises of the world—it’s a systematic mindset that any small business should embrace.

Here’s what you need to know about agile business modeling and what it’s meant during the coronavirus pandemic. 

What Does ‘Agile’ Mean? 

Agility has a variety of industry meanings used diversely across the modern workforce—this is why it’s so important to define the concept from the get-go. The experts at McKinsey and Co. define an agile company as an organization made up of a network of teams empowered to make decisions and operate within fast decision cycles. Everyone within the organization works toward a common goal, with smaller groups stepping in to address different challenges depending on their expertise. 

To understand agile business modeling, consider its antithesis: the “traditional” business model that managers and entrepreneurs are looking to leave. With this model, the main focus is on hierarchy. Ideas are sent “up the chain of command” for approval with multiple checks along the way to weed out bad ideas and catch potential issues. A lower-level employee needs to get approval from higher-level stakeholders and executives before they can move forward with an idea. 

“Organizations going agile must reimagine themselves around customer journeys, products, and other axes of value creation,” the team at McKinsey and Co. further explains. “Typically, this means transitioning from multilayered functional organizations into simpler forms, often with just 3 layers…Besides changing the structure, agile organizations must change their processes and people models and, often, decentralize their technology by making business units responsible for it.”

The traditional business model is made for stability. However, it can become slow and limited—especially if a few managers within the hierarchy have strong views or a specific vision for what should or shouldn’t be done. With an agile business model, teams can work quickly to implement ideas based on their expertise and continue making adjustments to move toward improvement. 

Becoming Agile Can Quickly Get Complex

Once you decide to make your small business more agile, it’s up to you as the business owner, alongside your managers, to determine which principles of the concept you want to adopt. The concept of agile project management was first used by software developers to discuss a new way of completing projects. 

Instead of following the traditional “waterfall” method, where teams worked on different parts of a project and delivered a draft to the client, agile developers broke the software plan into smaller pieces to ensure different bits were getting done faster. Over time, this process of management spread beyond the tech sector and is now used across countless industries. 

Today, the concept of agile project management is increasingly complex. Teams have sprints and scrum meetings. There are entire glossaries of agile project management terms and competing productivity philosophies like Six Sigma and Kanban.    

As a small business owner, you don’t need to become a certified Six Sigma black belt to run a more agile business. You just need to understand which principles of agility you want to apply to your operations and commit to implementing those methods.

How to Make Your Team More Agile

Embracing agility is a process, and it could take your company several months before you feel like your team members have fully embraced agile principles. To start, fully evaluate your business model and look for ways to become more flexible and decentralized. Here are a few things to consider implementing:

  • Break up projects into smaller pieces. A major concept of agile project management is the “sprint,” or a short period of time where teams accomplish set tasks and reach goals within a project. Instead of handing over a major project to a team, break up the work into smaller chunks with accountability check-ins along the way. Every week or 2, your team should be able to report on their progress and adapt to necessary changes.

  • Hold shorter meetings. Agile project management also gave teams the “scrum,” a daily meeting where teams go over the tasks for the day and any potential roadblocks. Opt for shorter, more frequent check-ins to maintain communication without slowing your team down. 
  • Create smaller teams with different leaders. Break up larger teams into smaller specialties. This will prevent project slow-downs, as everyone won’t feel the need to voice their opinion or require approval to move forward with an idea. 
  • Empower team members to make decisions. Allow managers to make decisions and answer questions instead of constantly seeking approval from senior leadership. Allow lower-level team members to take smart risks to move your company forward. 
  • Clarify your goals and team values. Agile management works best when everyone within the organization is on the same page. Make sure your team members are all working toward clear goals with the same values to ensure that all decisions reflect your brand. 

The goal of agile business modeling is to remove the restrictive hierarchy that creates undue stress to business owners while limiting the autonomy and creativity of lower-level employees.

Increasing Agility While the Pandemic Rages

In March 2020, teams went into survival mode as they tried to modify their operations to accommodate pandemic restrictions. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread—though hope has grown as vaccines are distributed. 

Use this period of change to adjust your business for the better. Progress your company with forward-thinking policies to increase your longevity and help you to scale.

You may discover that you have a passion for the nuances of agile project management—or you might just want to make some changes to your operations to reflect your agile values. Find a process that works for you and helps your team to thrive.

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Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp.