Before we explore some of the most successful Agile companies, we need to explain what we mean by agile and make it clear that we are not just using it as a synonym for robust. Rather than just being robust, we believe an agile company is one that is so well structured that when pressure is exerted on the business, it actually improves and even innovates. When this happens, various things might happen, such as the overall health of the organization and long-term prospects look better than before. The company might experience a more customer-centric reputation, a better or more streamlined supply chain, higher productivity from a more engaged workforce, and better profit margins.
Some businesses crack under pressure, others shine. Let's see the ones that have shined so bright using the agile methodology that the business world took notice.
Approach: Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) & Agile Coaching
It’s no accident that Barclays became Agile. It was, in fact, a huge organization-wide strategy that the financial services company embarked upon and which made complete sense due to their size and structure.
With teams in several countries, Barclays wanted to find an effective way of changing the mindset more effectively. By using Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), they were able to deliver people-first coaching that would help teams to simplify process decisions and improve productivity. They also set about redesigning many workspaces to be less individualistic and more collaborative.
Result: 300% increase in throughput, 50% reduction in code complexity on 80 apps, test code coverage up 50%. 800 of Barclays teams have successfully evolved to an Agile approach, reporting greater levels of happiness, more speed when launching new products, and greater adaptability than before, allowing them to respond better to internal feedback or external changes. Such agility has allowed Barclays to improve their new customer rates in a post-Covid environment and create guides for small businesses that are based on their positive experience.
Approach: Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Lonely Planet is a publisher, app developer, and website builder, serving travelers around the world. They bring the facts to millions of readers globally thanks to over 350 staff and more than 200 writers, editors, and contributors, from offices in 5 countries and remote workers connecting to the internet on every corner of the globe
As information consumption has changed to become more mobile-based, Lonely Planet was forced to adapt and adopt new measures, relegating some of their traditional methods to the past. With their Melbourne facility leasing 600 virtualized servers to help run a shared content publishing platform with impressive multimedia demands, the company needed to ensure that its infrastructure matched its ambition.
It was decided that the existing infrastructure was no longer right for Lonely Planet, and so, after a period of experimentation with different options, such as DevOps and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), they ultimately landed on Amazon Web Services. AWS allowed them to:
Embrace the flexibility of Amazon Cloud, the most advanced clouding computing software in the world
Access a building, development, and testing environment
Open Virtual Private Networks on multiple continents, allowing them to migrate to AWS completely and shut down the old servers
Result: Publishing platform costs were reduced by 30%. Latency was reduced from 250ms to 15ms. Developers can build about 10x as much in the same amount of time.
Approach: Getting better, faster, and happier through Agile approaches.
In 2017, Moonpig made the difficult decision to introduce business agility, despite the friction that introducing a major change can face. They feared that those employees outside of the product engineering team would see lean or Agile business as something ‘techy’.
The key to gaining support for Agile business changes was to communicate them effectively so that they wouldn’t be seen as some executive whim or jargon-filled instruction. Moonpig explained how the whole industry was moving towards Agile business models in order to be more resilient whilst still growing. They explained the two biggest fears of the business:
- 50% of companies that were in the Fortune 500 in 1995 had dropped off the list by 2015
- The average lifecycle of a company in the 1960s was 67 years—today it’s 15 years, and it’s falling
At the time Moonpig started moving towards an Agile business model, it was 18 years old, now, it’s over 20. Despite being larger than many of their competitors, they felt that this size made them responsible for leading the industry in terms of speed and success. So, how did they become more Agile? They focused on being better, faster, and happier, by adopting cross-functional teams, improving delivery capability and making product delivery leaner. They embraced data and tested theories. They engaged their staff and asked for regular feedback. The full case study can be read in fascinating depth.
Result: Better - healthy incremental revenue growth over the first 6 months of Agile operations with the leadership teams being thrilled by the results. Faster - realigned teams saw reduced cycle times, especially in delivering marketing content (months reduced to days). Happier - hard to measure, though staff surveys showed improvements in certain areas, with alignment & involvement improving by 13% and enablement by 21%.
San Francisco’s Fitbit was one of the early successes in the wearable technology market, taking advantage of a data-driven society that has become more and more introspective over time. In the early days, not long after their 2007 launch, they adopted a successful Scrum approach, which was ideal to help meet the demands of their holiday-orientated product delivery schedule (Christmas in particular).
As Fitbit’s customer numbers grew, so did their employee numbers, and soon, the Scrum approach was no longer as scalable as they had hoped. At this point, the Management Office Director, who had used SAFe before, decided a pivot in mindset and approach were needed. Rather than an overnight revolution, Fitbit started small, taking 12 Scrum teams and converting them to SAFe, adding more teams over time.
So, what exactly did they do?
- Design and create a fast and flexible flow across the Fitbit ecosystem
- Create cross-functional teams that focused on fast delivery
- Scaling up team growth to improve onboarding
- Improving objective visibility, with 2-month forecasting
- Align key business dates across the whole company, from marketing campaigns to office moves, keeping everyone in the loop
Result: Four new products and 22 million devices shipped in the first year of SAFe, the most they had ever achieved. Increases in overall speed and team engagement were recorded.
Last, but not least, on our list is Panera Bread, which is a highly successful and popular bakery-cafe chain that includes more than 2,000 outlets in the US and Canada.
The brand has also enjoyed exponential growth since 2013, at which point they employed approximately 250 people delivering IT solutions throughout the business. At this time, the President expressed his concern about the IT team’s ability to keep pace with the company’s pace of change and expansion, particularly as Panera Breads operated a standard combination of custom-built applications and off-the-shelf software packages.
To overcome this challenge and expedite the effective delivery of IT services in a way that supports growth company-wide, Panera decided to transform their model and apply Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD).
This process began with the delivery of agile-training workshops, first to the executive teams. Relevant delivery terms were then given the same training, ahead of two pilot DAD projects being launched. The pilots focused on back-of-house tasks such as forecasting, labor scheduling and inventory, with a view to streamlining ordering processes and allowing for quicker and more frequent deliveries.
From here, Panera Bread leveraged DAD to implement intuitive and high-quality IT solutions across the board, helping to create a much improved relationship between the business’s digital operations and the performance of each physical store. Another key aspect of this focused on streamlining the mobile ordering process, in order to help optimize sales and enhance customer satisfaction considerably.
Result: By improving the mobile ordering process, Panera Breads have seen digital sales grow to account for 25% of their overall sales. The company’s speed and efficiency of delivery has also improved, while the brand also operates one of the most successful and engaging customer loyalty programs in the industry.
What is an agile company?
In simple terms, an agile company or organisation is one that’s able to respond quickly to changes in the market, workplace or the behaviour of their customers.
This is enabled by the structure and business model that they create, while an agile company is built on the awareness that organisational change is inevitable in an age of digital transformation and widespread social evolution.
Because of this, agile companies create flexible business models that are regularly reviewed in detail. They may be subsequently tweaked or adjusted to ensure optimal performance too, especially in relation to employee engagement, morale and productivity.
What are the core characteristics of a company embracing agility?Agile companies can all be described as being adaptable and flexible, even though no single business of this type is created equal. This means that they share many of the same characteristics, including the following:
- Agile companies are customer-centric and focused on responding to the changing needs, wants and demands of their audience.
- Agile companies don’t operate a rigid, top-down hierarchy, eschewing the traditional chain of command for more varied structures.
- Agile companies are built on a shared purpose and vision, which encompasses every single employee, team and department. This creates more open communication between stakeholders and drives optimal levels of collaboration.
- Agile employees are usually comfortable when sharing even scarce company resources and best practices.
- Agile employees are inclined to seek continuous development and opportunities for progression, which is made considerably easier due to the lack of traditional (and often restricted) hierarchies.
What are the benefits of being an agile company?
There are numerous reasons why you may want to create an agile company and team structure. While the precise advantages unlocked by this approach will vary depending on the nature of your business, there are few universal benefits to keep in mind:
- Agile Companies are More Efficient and Dynamic: It makes sense that agile companies are more adaptable, as this is built into their mindset and culture. However, as this model seeks to pre-empt changing customer behaviours and the emergence of ambitious competitors, it’s also naturally more dynamic. As agile companies are far removed from rigid, bureaucratic structures too, they’re considerably more efficient and conducive to increased productivity.
- Agile Companies Create Happier Employees: According to some studies, some 40% of marketers have observed marked improvements in team morale following the adoption of an agile business model. This is largely because agile work cultures are built on the principles of improved teamwork, flexibility and collaboration, while it’s hard to ignore the fact that a happy employee is approximately 50% more productive than unhappy team members.
- Agile Companies Can Unlock Flexible Structures: We know that greater operational flexibility is a direct result of adopting an agile business model, particularly in terms of the team structures that you opt for. You can choose different models based on factors such as the size, scale and nature of your organisation, whether you adopt a generalist approach or specialise by ensuring that each team member has a specific focus and clearly defined role.
If you are looking to develop agility within your teams or for your organization, reach out to one of our expert advisors for a free consultation.