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What is Agile?
My first introduction to Agile (with a capital A) was only after starting to work in Product 5 years ago (*software product, not apparel!). At first, I thought everyone was just referring to agile as the adjective: something quick, reactive and well-coordinated.
As I started to google it under the table in meetings, I realised it was a MASSIVE topic that had a ton of well-known experts (and die-hard followers) on the topic, endless books and entire businesses built around it. Beyond agile software programming and product management—agile leadership, teams, manufacturing.
Agile (the noun)
For those who aren’t already an expert on it, or a die-hard fan, this is basically an iterative and collaborative philosophy of rapid product development, creation and distribution. Typically this means working in batches and shipping products (not just software) in a short period of time.
There’s a real emphasis on co-creation, on a cycle of continuous improvement, production and distribution with regular reflections on how to be better by constant fine-tuning and adjusting.
Turns out Agile is ideal for solving complex problems.
I’ve been reading a lot this month about the difference between complicated and complex problems. They sounded pretty similar to me and I was using the words interchangeably.
With complicated problems or systems, they have predictable solutions that are known in advance and outcomes you can control. Complicated problems require deep domain expertise, consultants etc.
Sustainable, resilient businesses must understand how to solve complexity
The challenges across the fashion ecosystem today are not complicated, they are adaptive and really complex. The challenges are system-wide and arise from networks of interconnected causes.
Basically, they can’t just be solved by domain expertise — the problems are literally changing as you are trying to solve them. You can’t begin to identify individual causes and solve for those in isolation.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and solve them though.
I started with learning about the Agile Onion
No, I didn’t come up with this- Agile Guru Simon Powers did.
What I learnt is that Agile is much more than just a methodology and that doing agile (yep, it’s doing) successfully means you have to start on the OUTSIDE of the onion and work your way inwards.
Basically mindset first – if you start with tools and process – it won’t work.
You gotta start on the outside of the onion
Start with Mindset otherwise, it’s really hard to change. Mindset guides how we choose to approach something. So in this context, it basically means being agile, rather than doing agile.
Then you’ve got behaviours or values, which is about establishing a way of working based on openness or trust.
In SupplyCompass, Agile principles are that we will deliver new features every 2 weeks. Practices (or methodologies) are the way you did it — via things like Scrum or Kanban.
Then at the core of the onion are the “how”. The tools and processes which can be a blend of collaboration or workflow tools like Jira, Trello, Google, ClickUp, Miro (and SupplyCompass if you are a brand)….
Fashion is already being agile
There are brands and supply chains that are being agile already. Working cohesively as one with a well planned, connected, product life cycle, working cross-organisationally as a team, operating on a foundation of shared principles, tools and processes.
Constantly (and effectively) launching new small drops, iterating and improving — together.
No doubt they will be the most successful — and sustainable — organisations of the future.
What if you want to be agile? Take one thing away from this – the onion. Start with Mindset…
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