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Agile Business: Demystifying the Pivot

I’m a super lousy Tetris player. I understand the mechanics– rotating and scooting the pieces over to the corresponding spaces aren’t complicated actions, but for some reason I can never manage to get into a good groove. After a few ill-placed shapes I inevitably panic, my tower ends up tall and full of holes, and I lose the game. Things that would help? A slower game, only having to focus on half of the screen and most definitely a second player.

Navigating your way through business can often feel similar: you know you have to pivot the pieces or it’s game over. And while you can’t change the increasing speed of innovation, there are other ways to improve your groove.

Pivot, Don’t Jump

First and foremost: don’t mistake a pivot for a jump. A lot of people tend to associate pivoting with total change, but completely switching out your goal every time you have doubts is exhausting (not to mention a disservice to every team involved). Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to go back to square one, but when it comes to making these course-correcting shifts, the destination should stay the same. It’s the path that changes.

Eric Reis, author of The Lean Startup, defines it as: a change in strategy without a change in vision.   

Little Helpers

In addition to a change in mindset, implementing a few key strategies can also make pivoting less daunting:

Cross-functional teams: When a pivot is made, there’s work that is inevitably lost. Wearing different hats and sharing what you learn with your team can make that hard reality easier to understand. Full transparency also really helps, so provide the raw data helped make this decision.

Accelerate: All hail the mighty scrum meeting. As Jascha recently noted, “These are 15-minute meetings that encourage camaraderie and communication, but which also uncover potential problems before they get off track. Whether you call them a scrum or not isn’t what is important. It’s the physical act of meeting and communicating with each other on a daily basis that is key.”

Scenario Planning: It might sound a bit antithetical to Agile, but a bit of planning can help increase competitiveness. FastCompany recently bulleted great process:

  • Identify the top 10 drivers on which your business depends.
  • Integrate these into three drivers by eliminating or combining them.
  • Create 10 scenarios by imaging what happens as each driver oscillates. For example, one scenario might be a high unemployment rate in which you must pay a low margin to your distributors; another might be low unemployment and high margin. You get the idea.
  • Select two to four scenarios you want to plan for. These are the ones most likely to happen and that would most significantly impact your plan.
  • Build out each scenario as a three-page story and then come up with what your strategic response should be.
  • Set up a tracking system by identifying what numbers you can track that will let you know that one of your scenarios is emerging.

Accept that it’s not Easy

Regardless of department, position or niche, there are times when you’ll need to make a gut check. Pivoting around whatever conclusion you make isn’t going to be easy, but it shouldn’t be considered failure either. As Tagged founder Greg Tseng noted last year over at TechCrunch, many of the digital realm’s biggest businesses started out in a very different space than they ultimately found themselves. YouTube, for example, began as a video dating site, Twitter was originally a group SMS messaging venture, and Groupon, initially known as The Point, was a platform for collective political action.

(Special thanks to Atlassian’s Nicholas Muldoon for wearing the Threadless design in the header above to SprintZero’s Agile Marketing panel earlier this month. There is inspiration to be found in just about every place, if you know how to look.)

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