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What is Agile Consulting, Really?

“Agile” has become the consulting industry’s new favorite word.  Everyone wants to have an agile team or be known for their incredible agility. 

Agile usually means the ability to move quickly and easily.  

But what does agile consulting mean?

Agility in consulting is essentially business flexibility. It refers to the ability to evolve and to the requirements of projects and re-allocate resources.  It almost always entails a lot of digital and technological services in consulting.

Increasingly, having a tight digital infrastructure is what allows businesses to combat new challenges.  In addition, in the future, this is likely to be defined by machine learning as well.  Artificial intelligence will allow businesses to predict problems, react to them in real time and evolve, without as much human tampering.

However, people often confused this seemingly simple definition of “agility” with corporate jargon.  

Each firm has a few catchphrases about what agile consulting is for.  BCG for example, says it allows them to “focus on business values”, be “attractive to talent” and have a “faster time to market”.

These BCG buzz words are pretty cryptic and it is difficult to unravel what binds them:

The BCG explanation misses something.   It opens by saying what they think are the results of agile consulting, without explaining how they get there. 

The real goal of agile consulting is, as the term suggests, to be nimble.  Agility means that a team moves and flexes as a project evolves.  This allows them to offer clients an evolving set of services.

As new opportunities appear and the client’s wishes change, a consultancy is able to realign with the moving parts of a project.  It not only maximises the opportunities for revenue generation, but it means that teams can be autonomous.  If a team is wholly agile, they are less likely to need to refer to HQ in need of new tech or personnel. In this way, you could definitely say that agile consulting empowers consultants.  It does indeed allow BCG to “focus on business values”, and be “attractive to talent”.

McKinsey describe their techniques for agile consulting below:

Most of the time, 70-90% of innovation projects fail.  The reason for their lack of success is that firms set out resolutely to do something with very little room for manoeuvre.

Two thirds of the innovation projects that do succeed, did not end up doing what they set out to.  An agile approach allows them to flex and move with the direction of innovation.  In this sense, agility permits a business to continue to meet their purpose and strategy, without having to rethink how at every intersection. 

In the Bain video below, we see the example of YouTube which initially tried to be a video dating service!

To create this adaptability, agile teams need to be small, entrepreneurial and highly digitised.  In this sense, agile consulting often resembles the culture of a start-up in its push for novel solutions and new ways of doing things.

Agile has made way for an entirely new set of terminology.  Things you may have heard of, like “sprints” are products of this new world.  Most of these new ideas revolve around the need to test new ways of doing things.  As things change at high speed, they are also more prone for failure, or technical difficulties.  It is crucial that they receive the testing that they need and so this product design sort of language has grown and grown.

Finally, for good measure.

Here’s Bain’s own take on what agile consulting means to them:

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  • Will Bennett

    Will Bennett is a Cambridge graduate. He worked as a Consultant and Senior Consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in London. Will is the Founder of The Cambridge Consultant.