Your job is going to change (if it hasn’t already), and it’s going to be great — better than finding your car magically washed and waxed and in the company parking lot. Your creative potential is about to be unshackled from a centuries-old management paradigm that is no longer relevant to innovative firms (which soon will be the only firms left — but more on that later).

You may have heard of “agile,” and it probably won’t surprise you that it started with a manifesto. What you may not know is that manifesto was only 68 words long. It basically said:

Individuals Interactions > Processes & Tools
Working Software > Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration > Contract Negotiation
Responding to Change > Following a Plan

That is the essence of agile. It’s a way of thinking that leads to outcomes like interdisciplinary collaboration and an ability to effectively respond to change.

You may have heard that agile is a project management technique — it isn’t. It’s more radical than that. Some people think it’s interchangeable with the scrum methodology and limited to software development — it isn’t. It’s much bigger than that. It works across industries and functions as diverse as general management, marketing, research and development, or strategy. While packaged methodologies may be the right way to get started with agile, the core of successful practice is about adaptively learning what particular agile methods work for a given team. At the company level, agile has to do with transforming plan-driven organizations into a collection of autonomous teams that are aligned with the corporation’s objectives.

These teams are interdisciplinary, dedicated, autonomous and self-organizing. They align to a charter they are given by the corporation, but that charter is not a blueprint for what to do. It is a target outcome they are to achieve. It’s up to the team how to achieve that outcome and they will iteratively try many different approaches, which is itself the essence of innovation.

That is how most of today’s high-functioning, innovative companies look and work. Here are five reasons why this part of agile is coming to your doorstep sometime soon, if it hasn’t already.

  1. Software Soon Will Do Everything
    The world’s changing. Marc Andreessen put a pretty fine point on it when he said:

    “The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories: people who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do."

    Machine Intelligence/AI is where e-commerce was when Amazon launched in 1994. A lot of the basics are up and working, but they’re going to get a lot better, and we haven’t really integrated them into the way we do things yet. Once we do, no industry — no job — will be left untouched.

    If for no other reason than the fact that agile is the way so many teams do digital, it’s coming your way.
  2. Design Thinking/Innovation Doesn’t Work Without It
    Design/design thinking is this thing that every team, every company (that cares about innovation) knows they should be doing. Why? Well, if your competition acquires a deeper understanding of your customer and is able to act on it faster, you have a problem.

    Without agile as an underlying framework for innovation, it’s hard to scale design thinking. Corporations are using agile methods like design sprints to scale their practice of design thinking, among other innovation techniques like Lean Startup.
  3. It Works
    Agile really does work. It doesn’t work automatically, but with practice and focus it produces great results. You’ll trade in the false sense of security that elaborate plans provide for the ultimately more gratifying reward of being sure that what you’re doing is actually making sense. You’ll also get the satisfaction of knowing you’re responding to results in short cycles vs. clinging to the false sense of security a plan provides and hoping for the best.
  4. The Talent Wants Agility
    The developers, designers and managers that are getting great results at today’s most innovative companies are probably practicing some form of agile. High-functioning developers are getting used to continuous integration and delivery. Top designers are used to Lean UX and Lean Startup and being able to test their ideas as they go. Good managers know that they can’t take a nine month idea, break it into two week iterations and hope for agile results (as a development manager friend of mine recently noted).

    These are the people your organization needs to innovate, and they’re using agile.
  5. Your Competition Will
    Ultimately, you don’t want to be the Blockbuster to someone else’s Netflix. While innovation as a widespread core practice is relatively new, it’s catching on, and agile is one of the most practical vehicles to initiate it.

    You probably saw this coming, and, yes, we have an offering at Darden in this area: the Agile Development specialization on Coursera. Or, if you’re specifically in product management, our Digital Product Management course. Regardless, I hope you find your practice of agile fruitful and rewarding.
About the Expert

Alex Cowan

Batten Fellow and General Faculty

Cowan is an expert in digital innovation, agile and lean methodologies, and entrepreneurship. He teaches multiple courses in Darden’s Technology and Operations Management area, as well as the massive open online course specialization “Agile Development” (one of Coursera’s Top 15 specializations) and “Digital Product Management: Modern Fundamentals.”

Author of the book Starting a Tech Business: A Practical Guide for Anyone Creating or Designing Applications or Software, Cowan is also an experienced entrepreneur and intrapreneur who now divides his time between instructing, advising and consulting. He delves into venture design, his systematic approach to developing new products and businesses, on

Cowan studied industrial engineering and economics at Stanford University.