Strategies for Startups: Developing Agile Spend Habits

It’s no secret that Agile innovation revolutionized information technology and has evolved into the gold standard for software development. What is less obvious is the effects Agile philosophy has had on the rest of the C-Suite and operations of the very companies it already exists in. We know how Agile has changed the way we think about and create software, but how has Agile tactics changed how companies approach spend and executive leadership?

When Forbes asked more than 500 senior executives from around the world in July 2017 about Agile philosophies, 92% said they believe organizational agility is critical to business success, yet only 27% “consider themselves highly Agile.” This identified an appetite for Agile culture but idle inaction from the very same offices, it’s clear that we’re in a transitional period of various organizations still understanding where new processes and tools can fit in to the administrative ways of the past.

The negative associations that come with traditional, administrative processes are all too familiar: reacting to projects with urgent deadlines, as opposed to assigning priority and dedicating focus in priority. Or, scheduling frequent and unessential meetings taking up the time and capacity of your most capable staff. 

While these exemplify neglecting and counteracting the Agile way explicitly, some methods are more covert and embedded discreetly across your organization’s departments. Try these on for size: Are you still reliant on one company credit card? Is your approval process unwittingly arduous? If you needed a new software subscription to aid your work and your looming deadline, just how fast could you realistically get it?

Spending Fast and Slow

We’ve hopefully all heard the adage “You’ve got to spend money to make money” by now. For business and operations in general, this rings entirely too true. But it’s only when you consider the rate of spend for rapidly scaling companies and what the spend is actually going towards that you can understand how Agile plays into it. Any company in a hyper-growth stage or in any kind of growth stage for that matter will tell you, when they need something, they need it yesterday. Spending money is no different. 

These issues that impede the Agile framework aren’t by accident, they’re by design. Forbes deduces that the biggest roadblock to implementing Agile for these executives are too many projects per team member, lack of company vision, & unclear project scope, which go hand in hand and support the historical behaviour listed above. 

The backbone of Agile philosophy is adaptive planning, iterative development, strategic deadlines and early delivery, and constant evolution. It’s a system that inherently encourages flexibility and response to change. In today’s dynamic and unpredictable landscape of operations and finance, there’s a lot to learn from the Agile philosophy, and there’s a convincing amount of companies that are already taking charge. 

Agile Spend

If most of the Finance team in your own company has a “rather be safe than sorry” attitude towards purchasing, and if most financial decisions, budgets and spend approvals come from the top, you’re likely still set in an administrative approach to your processes.

In such a case, there’s likely only a few key stakeholders approving purchases and signing off on expenses. Conversely, finance teams under an agile spend culture are all about accessibility of data and the technological tools needed to make strategic decisions. 

For instance, Planet Fitness leveraged an approval routing system put in place to put orders through an assistant manager, then to the branch manager, all before it even gets to the Purchasing Manager, Anne Bard. “I still have that final say if something looks really off but now the clubs have so much more control and visibility into budgets and spend,” she explains.

This manifests itself in flexible budgets and departmental control and access to determine how to spend money with the allocated funds. Think deeply about the various components of Agile – scrum, which emphasizes creative and adaptive teamwork in solving complex problems, lean development, focusing on the continual elimination of waste; and kanban, which pinpoints reducing lead times and the amount of work in any given process. 

Is your team as agile and as adaptive as it can be with a four or five step approval process and paper purchase orders? How often does your finance team chase receipts and requests in the name of month-end reconciliation?

Your team should be early adopters of new tools and are always looking for a better way. To be agile in finance is to scrutinize inefficient processes, automating as much manual work as possible with a variety of tools at your disposal. You likely won’t see paper invoices or expense forms lying around in the offices of an Agile team. 

Agile Procurement

An Agile organization’s contemporary advantage is in its structure. In procurement, for instance, rather than sorting your team based on category-specific management, Agile organizations have the luxury of having a working group of managers that handle communications and organization based on variables such as the timing and required expertise. This allows multidisciplinary professionals to be able to work and coalesce with defined processes, clear ownership, and flexible strategy.

Agile procurement team members value consolidating and interpreting data and often have a set vendor list to reference to get competitive pricing and maintain relationships. They most often have an approval chain set up – with multiple parties glazing over a purchase request before it goes through to accounts payable. Because teamwork is essential in agile organizations, the procurement team should work closely and collaboratively alongside the finance team – having sharing goals and KPIs to improve the spend culture of the organization together, such as cycle time and requisition time.

Embracing Operational Challenges

Figuring out how these new technologies can get incorporated and what the impact is on staffing and business processes is the main challenge for operations, finance and procurement collectively. A top-down approach won’t do – agile leaders embrace change and innovation, and view calculated risks as an opportunity. Agile leaders see the opportunities in collaboration, cross-functional learning, and allowing their team members to create their own goals.

In monitoring and sustaining performance across these goals, the agile organization must plan their consumption of resources, track spending and revenues collaterally, and refine the process, iterating constantly. With technologies in cloud and SaaS enabling all departments from a variety of possible locations, it’s become incredibly convenient to function cohesively and collaborate in real time.

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