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The Agile broker: Lessons and practices to be more productive

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sticky notes on a white board to increase productivity“Now agile methodologies—which involve new values, principles, practices, and benefits and are a radical alternative to command-and-control-style management—are spreading across a broad range of industries and functions and even into the C-suite.”

– “Embracing Agile” by Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, Hirotaka Takeuchi. Harvard Business Review, May 2016

Agile is by far the most commonly used methodology for software companies. But why? It’s not something that’s specifically for software companies. Anyone can use Agile.

In the 2017 global survey  “The State of Scrum,” executives from the Forbes Technology Council cited the benefits of Agile as:

  • Faster feedback
  • Ability to adapt to change
  • Problems identified early
  • Flexible prioritization
  • Team purpose

Sounds helpful, right? And if you read any business press or newspaper (Harvard Business Review, Forbes, New York Times) you’ll find articles discussing Agile outside of engineering and IT.

Which got us thinking…can Agile work for CRE? We’ve examined how brokers can be more efficient with different productivity and prioritization frameworks, so we wanted to dig into one in particular.

What is Agile?

The Agile Manifesto was created in 2001 by seventeen technical experts who simply wanted to find a better, and more humane, way to build complex software systems.

At its core, Agile is a mindset. Agile is a way of thinking that influences attitude, culture, and leadership styles. This mindset is described by four values:

  • Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools
  • Working Software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to Change over following a plan

The values are underpinned by the 12 principles, from flexibility in changing working requirements to simplicity and efficiency.

In the CRE industry, you can think of the “deliverable” unit of value as a deal. Development of that value involves prospecting, nurturing relationships, and building expertise as a trusted advisor in speciality market segments. When you frame your work around those concepts, the Agile values and principles suddenly apply easily to CRE brokers.

Think about it through this lens:

  • Individuals, relationships, and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working deals over comprehensive documentation and paperwork
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a fixed plan (especially in the contract phase when dates and deadlines become very important. If you miss a key date it can be costly and even void the contract.)

4 suggested Agile practices for CRE brokers

Here are some common Agile practices that already translate well to the commercial real estate industry. If you don’t already do these, consider giving them a try!

1.Daily stand-ups (aka daily scrum)

It’s common for broker teams to have meetings to sync up. Think of the Monday morning powwows that review all deals in flight, the backlog of future work, and what has closed. If you don’t already do this, think of how easy and helpful it would be to meet for 15 minutes to determine who is doing what.

Note that these are called “stand-ups” because the meetings aren’t held in a conference room where everyone sits around a table. Physically standing during the meeting helps things move more quickly. They shouldn’t be overly formal, but are meant to keep everyone on the same page and moving forward with their work.

2. Cross-functional teams

Agile software teams always include the skill sets and expertise required for the team to deliver on work. Similarly, broker teams can include a mix of senior and junior brokers, admin support, researchers, and marketing. (If you haven’t hired a team yet, you can read more on hiring a junior broker or building out a larger team.)

3. Retrospectives

Teams should regularly meet to talk about how to improve. Agile teams employ the concept of Kaizen or “continuous improvement” in their working lives. Try taking a Friday afternoon to regroup and talk about “pluses” and “deltas” from the week—or what should be changed and what could be improved for next time.

4. Tracking work on boards

Our previous post described KANBAN boards and work tracking. CRE teams often have Deal Boards, which may be physical sticky notes on a wall, a spreadsheet, or a CRE deal tracking tool. In using KANBAN, Agile teams will have daily stand-ups by the actual board and will review and move tasks that way.

Other companies and teams using Agile

Agile has been widely adopted outside of product development to different organizational departments and into different business sectors. National Public Radio uses Agile methods to create new programming. John Deere designs and develops new machines using Agile. Saab uses Agile to produce new fighter jets. Other companies use them in marketing, human resources, and sales. Mission Bell Winery uses agile techniques for everything from wine production to warehousing to running its senior leadership group.

If it works for them, it could work for you! Let us know in the comments if you put any of this into practice on your team.