Why Agile and why now? Is Agile the newly discovered silver bullet, the buzzword bingo flavor of the month, a new fad for corporations, replacement for operational excellence? Is it the cultural change we have been waiting for to fuel top-tier growth, employ empowerment & engagement, and shareholder value? I believe it is the latter.  Until a year ago, all I knew about Agile was it was a synonym for nimble. It often applied to athletes, and it was a word frequently being used in earnings releases by numerous C-suite executives. But I didn’t really understand why.

For the last 10 months, I have been afforded the privilege to learn more and take on the challenge to work with a passionate and energetic team to instill Agile ways of working as part of our organization’s culture. Now, I am a disciple of Agile. I really believe it can, and will, drive better customer-centric results in a faster, less expensive and more iterative manner, enabling companies that do this well to ultimately lead in their industries and marketplace.   Why you might ask? Look, I am not a process guy, I am a results guy and I have seen Agile in action. When the organization begins to embrace and embed it as part of the culture, it delivers faster results. For you process junkies, there are principles and processes for big projects that need a more formal approach, but the most important part of Agile is embedding the attributes and mindset from the beginning. Winning companies are those who can cross over from being a perfectionist culture to a performance culture, which I would suggest to you is a synonym for Agile. Let me explain the differences.

A perfection culture

Organizations striving for perfection are typically risk adverse, consensus driven, slow to market, prioritize everything as important and urgent, and nothing gets done fast. This type of culture typically seeks customer feedback once an idea has been commercialized — which is often when it becomes obsolete — is non-iterative in their thinking, has a workforce constantly focused on trying to do more with less and typically struggles to be a growth leader in their industry. Now if you are building nuclear power plants or developing medicine, you need to be a perfectionist. If you are positioned to become a total beverage company that operates in more than 200 countries, perfection can be a competitive disadvantage.   

A performance culture (aka Agile)

Agile organizations move with speed and take smart risks, accelerating time to market by ruthlessly prioritizing, providing clear decision rights, leveraging small cross functional teams and constantly putting the customer and its partners at the center of the feedback loop as they quickly seek input to drive iterative innovation. People in the organization are not focused on getting more work done, but getting more value out of the work that they are doing. Teams are engaged, nimble and their efforts lead to better long-term results and improved shareholder performance.

Think of companies like Apple with their first generation iPhone and how they have continued to seek customer feedback and iterate all the way to version 10, growing and capturing market share along the way.  They didn’t wait until they perfected the camera, debugged all the issues, right sized the memory, built in the ability to do selfies, etc. They delivered their minimum viable product (MVP) to the customer as they continued to lead the market.  Spotify just completed its initial public offering and their stock is already up double-digit over their initial reference price.  Know what their secret sauce is? Agile ways of working. Tesla is constantly iterating by integrating customer feedback to upgrade the performance of its cars instead of waiting for the next model, delivering better performance and higher customer satisfaction.  Lastly, did you know Amazon applied these principles to launch Amazon Prime in a matter of weeks? THIS IS AGILE!  At Coca-Cola, we’re in the early stages of our Agile journey, and we know there is more work to be done. But we believe it is the right path and that we have immense growth opportunities in front of us and Agile ways of working, and an empowered culture can help us capture it.

Mark Eppert

Be curious, be inclusive, be empowered and iterate by incorporating feedback to develop versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. By doing so, you will be well on your way to BEING AGILE!   

Mark Eppert is the Vice President of Global Transformation for Coca-Cola, leading the Agile Center of Excellence. To learn more about how Coca-Cola is deploying this way of working, e-mail Agile@coca-cola.com.