The Agile Innovation Approach to the Future of Work

Keynote: Future Work Design - The Agile Innovation Approach

Dr. John Boudreau, Senior Research Scientist, and Professor at Marshall School of Business

Work has significantly become an agile experiment since work has been perpetually upgraded over time. Automation also plays a major change in work as we all know. When we look at the industry giant, we have seen a division in the opinion about the future of work.

Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan announced that he expects a gradual return to the office with and there will be lasting damage if workers don’t return. However, Google and many tech companies extended their work-from-home policies until the end of the year or even indefinitely.

Perhaps, the best example comes from GM when they site the concept of Work Appropriately.

‘The learning and successes of the last year led us to introduce how we will manage the future of work at GM, called ‘Work Appropriately.’ This means that where the work permits, employees have the flexibility to work where they can have the greatest impact on achieving our goals,’

Marry Barra, General Motors CEO

Other organizations like Unilever introduces the concept of ‘Inside Gifs’ that allows employees to choose their own projects that interested them and hopefully provide solutions within a shorter time period.

Perhaps, the most important question is how we plan to go back to work as we all know it and, more fundamental, what is the future of work design?. John mentions that, if we look at the Agile process and use it as a frame of mind, we can visualize the process of going back to work as:

  • Waterfall: follow the typical define, build, and release. This process might start with the low risk but will experience the greatest risk from the release phase since there are so many unknowns and we didn’t collect enough feedback from employees about the new stage of work.

  • Agile: Here we can break the process of define, build, and release into sub-phase. Each release might be exposed to some risks but organizations can learn and take that feedback to redesign the work-entry strategy and can manage it at a more bite-size level.

As we all are anticipating, in the future, there will be a more complicated work engagement from various sources.

The question is how can we engage the workers and how they get done required the rethink of Where-When-What of Work.

  • Where: Such as ‘work from home’ versus ‘back to the office,’ versus ‘hybrid combinations’

  • When: Well-being may depend on when work is done, not about whether workers are working ‘too hard or ‘too long’

  • What: ‘What is the assignment?’ Could you shift the fixed time/place tasks in a job from a remote worker to a worker who is closer to the location or prefers on-location work, and then rebalance by giving the remote worker more of the remote tasks?

Optimizing Human and Automated Work

More importantly, what will be the future model of human and automation work integration? There are so many debates on this topic but the likely outcome will be:

  • Replace Humans: Automation substitutes and removes the human

  • Augment Humans: Automation enables humans to do the work better

  • Reinvent Humans: Automation creates new work for humans that was not possible without the automation

John concludes that we don’t know what the future of work will be but we do know that all of the employees have learned to innovate continually, as you have crafted your work to meet the unprecedented opportunities and challenges of the pandemic. Therefore, instead of one policy applied to everyone, the organization's new policies should invite and equip employees to design work through agile innovation and experimentation to find the right solution.

It seems like we will all going through the great organizational discover of the future of work together and don't prepare to be right the first time or at all. The keyword is Perpetual Change which we need to embrace on the culture and spirit of change and it seems Agile Culture might be something that organizations need to equip their workforce with this mindset right now.

By Dr. Nattavut Kulnides

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