At AAIS, we’re continually refining our best-in-class products and services to better meet the needs of our Members in a quickly changing industry. In January of 2013, we recognized the need to improve our work processes in order to respond to growing market demand. That’s when AAIS adopted Agile as a new approach to project management.
Agile uses an iterative and time-boxed methodology, veering companies away from the inefficiencies of sequential management. Commonly seen in software development, Agile methodology focuses on splitting large projects into smaller, more feasible tasks, which employees complete in short "sprints" of time. Agile centers around three core tenets: iterative development, risk management, and transparency. AAIS utilizes Agile in a unique way by making it central to the entire organization. All AAIS employees participate in the Agile process, creating a strong sense of project management, accountability, and visibility across the company.
Agile has four core values: individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working product over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. At AAIS, collaboration and our tight-knit culture have aided in our many accomplishments, so we knew that by working together, making our work transparent across departments, it would lead to a better, more cohesive end results for our Members.
Agile’s collaborative approach to project management moves away from sequential methods like waterfall, a step-by-step method of project management that can be timely and inefficient. Agile’s time-box approach includes splitting projects into blocks of time called sprints, which vary in length. AAIS works in two-week sprints, enough time to see the impact of our work, while keeping the primary goal in focus. Every sprint produces work that moves toward the larger completed project. In the time it would take an organization using waterfall to come up with ideas, one using Agile is already producing a portion of the product. This keeps customers more satisfied with iterative value being delivered throughout the Agile process.
Division of work allows for more collaboration among teams, easier adaptation/risk mitigation, better quality, and higher customer engagement in the Agile environment. At AAIS, cross-functional teams hold stand-up meetings that allow members to update the team on work status and any obstacles during the sprint. At quarterly Big Room Planning sessions, all teams look back upon the work they did in the previous quarter and set high-level strategy and plans for the next quarter. By doing this together, AAIS ensures alignment of priorities and resources across the organization. The strong collaboration promoted by the Agile proves prevents team 'silos' and promotes cross-functional reliance and accountability.
Agile provides excellent tools for product management. However, it also meets the increasing needs of a remote workforce, which gives teams fewer chances to collaborate in person. Agile requires a modern company culture, willing to change the way people interact, collaborate, and do their work. For standard, structured, organized work cultures found in the insurance industry, significant adjustments may be required to shift the corporate mindset.
In the past seven years, Agile has helped AAIS create a culture of empowerment and success. It has allowed staff to feel like they're making their own decisions, to plan as they go, to stay engaged in the process, and see the significant impact their work has on their organization. Agile's unique approach to organizing project management has helped increase AAIS's efficiency so that we can quickly meet the changing needs of our Members. Agile has helped AAIS grow and transform into the modern, Member-focused advisory organization it is today.