How Agile Can Improve Quality in Any Business

When we hear about Agile methodology, usually our first thought is IT Business and Software development organisations. But the truth is that Agile is also a great methodology to support Quality Management Systems development, implementation and improvement in any business.

In a nutshell, the Agile manifesto (often referred to as the Agile Methodology) is a set of principles for an iterative approach to project management to develop solutions through collaborative effort. The goal is to deliver the project incrementally rather than all at once in order to respond quickly to issues and unpredictabilities.

Often, International Standards such as ISO are perceived as a quality relic, referring to archaic manufacturing organisations with rigid business structures. However, the latest edition of ISO 9001:2015 allows for flexibility and the potential of this standard has not been fully utilised by many organisations.


Agile and Quality

So, let’s walk through how the Agile principles could support a Quality Management System and the benefits that organisations gain from implementing those principles within their businesses.

To start, the Canadian engineer and author Scott W. Ambler, who led the development of Agile methodologies, has further explained the four simple rules of Agile in a way that is easier to grasp:

Depositphotos_81381430_l-2015You don’t necessarily need to implement the Agile framework in your business, but you should consider some aspects of Agile that can improve your business processes and help you to achieve more flexibility and resilience in your projects.

The following subjects will look into specific business functions and how they can benefit from the Agile concepts.


Leadership and Culture

Let’s begin with leadership and management, since, without developing the right culture, becoming ISO Certified or more Agile would never be possible.

Recognising that, ISO 9001 puts a lot of emphasis on the leadership topic. Management is the place where everything starts or everything ends. The collective direction is one of the core organisation capabilities (Adler, 2012), and is undoubtedly the key to adopting the requirements of the ISO 9001 Standard. 

How Agile Can Improve Quality in Any BusinessThe right organisational culture can’t be created without support that is aligned with the company’s vision and mission. Leadership and commitment are the fuel and energy of every business and are critical elements for nurturing the right principles and values. For reflection, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is our management team ready and do they support our vision?
  • Is the current leadership model appropriate to create a flexible and innovative culture?

To drive any change in the business and improve the company’s overall resilience, your management team must become more open-minded and shift the approach from managers to servant leaders. 

A stakeholder analysis is recommended to identify their needs and expectations while understanding their powers and interest in the business, thus providing them with suitable support and training.

External Environment

How Agile Can Improve Quality in Any BusinessUnderstanding your position in the market, and being constantly aware of dynamics within the external environment are crucial for any business.

This is highlighted in the ISO 9001 Standard in Clause 4.1 Understanding the Organisation and its Context.

Organisations usually use frameworks for this purpose, such as a PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal,  Environmental) and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses. These can be powerful tools if applied correctly, if the participants are truly honest with the business capabilities and are from different departments to avoid or minimise bias.

Developing a plan based on the incorrect information could result in an ineffective strategy. Also, regular screening of the external environment is vital for a company’s adaptation as your external factors might change quickly, and you will need to know when this happens, so you don’t miss out on opportunities. 

Customers

Customer ConceptCustomer focus is one of the seven principles of the ISO 9001 Standard and is also one of the key elements of Agile. But how do we improve our customer relationships?

This can be challenging, as complex projects might take years to be completed and waiting for an after-release evaluation won’t provide the necessary information for the following reasons:

  • Stakeholders in the projects might change.
  • Projects often consist of several stages which might require different skills and activities. An after-release evaluation might consider only the last milestone, for instance.
  • The perception of clients could be biased based on the latest performance – the good is forgotten, and the bitter taste stays forever.
  • Lack of relevant data throughout the phases might affect customer evaluation.
  • Low volume of data provided by customers won’t allow for analysing trends.

The list could go on, but the point is that you need to develop a strong relationship with your customers and evaluate your performance throughout the project. Most importantly, by doing so, you will be able to implement necessary changes and adapt immediately. For instance, receiving feedback at the end of a three-year project would not give you a good insight into your activities throughout different phases, then waiting for the end of the project could cause great damage.

People

scrum agile methodology software standing meetingBasically, both ISO 9001 and Agile are implemented through people at an individual level. That emphasises the importance of understanding your staff, conducting effective performance reviews, and having strong teams collaborations.

Doing interviews and surveys once a year might not be enough to realise that something is wrong within your team. It could also be too late to prevent your most talented staff from leaving your business frustrated. 

Sometimes, even positive performance reviews and low staff turnover don’t necessarily mean that your team is at its peak performance. You should be seeking answers to the following questions to improve your team performance and evaluation:

  • What skills are required today and what skills do we need to possess to be competent tomorrow?
  • What are the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, what are their profiles?
  • What are the overall capabilities of your teams?
  • How well do people interact as a team and what are the obstacles that prevent them from trusted collaboration?


Structure and System

The structure of the business also plays a crucial role and determines the flexibility around decision-making. A formal and layered hierarchy (top-down) in the business can make it challenging to make quick decisions and support a creative and collaborative environment.

Standardised processes might require transformation and shift from ‘leading employees to predefined answers’ to ‘framework-based processes’ where staff can ‘develop solutions’. 


“A good process is a process that helps someone see how to think, how to find a solution, but it doesn’t tell them what to do. It doesn’t tell them the exact answer. In other words, it’s not a tick box. It’s a framework that lets people bring themselves to the problem in a way that they know they’re not going to miss anything. It’s a support — but a support that gives them the chance to be creative.” 

(Macijewski, 2019)



businessman wearing virtual reality goggles in modern office witYour management system should provide flexibility while supporting your business functions. Moving from manual spreadsheets, tables, and forms to a sophisticated platform and business analysis tools could dramatically minimise your time when maintaining the system, improve communication of changes and enhance the decision-making process. 

Your system should be reflecting the company’s growth, not increasing the system complexity. You should also make sure that the technology implemented in the business follows the strategy, and not the other way around. 

Contact us on 1300 614 007 or by email if you want to know more about how to achieve certification to the ISO 9001:2015 Standard.

References

DENNING, S., 2016. How to make the whole organisation “Agile”. Strategy & Leadership, 44(4), pp. 10-17. 

TENNANT, R., 2001. Building Agile organisations. Library Journal, 126(7), pp. 30.

ADLER, N., 2012. The Strategically Agile Organisation: Development of a measurement instrument, Alliant International University.

MCKINSEY & COMPANY, 2012. How British Army’s Operations Went Agile. McKinsey Quarterly, November 2019. 

ARGYRIS, C. (1999). On Organisational learning (2nd ed.). MA, US: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

About the author

Consultant at ISO Certification Experts

Marek develops customised management systems for our clients, to meet the certification-readiness requirements of ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001. He has a Master of Business Administration, Diploma in ISO Integrated Business Management Systems and is currently undertaking a Doctorate of Business Administration.