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How Can Hospitality Join the Agile Movement?


Agile is a powerful methodology for building and implementing new technology. It increases system value and customer satisfaction while reducing delivery risk and employee frustration.

Many companies would like to achieve these benefits. Agile looks easy: it is based on a deceptively simple set of principles, and “flavors” like Scrum and Kanban provide playbooks of roles and processes. But Agile is also a very new way of working. It needs to be tailored to the organization to take root, and there can be a steep learning curve. Companies that simply drop in Agile are setting themselves up for disruption, setbacks, and even outright failure.

Companies should engage Agile experts to adapt the roles, processes, and metrics to their unique business. In addition, companies should invest in training for their employees and coaching for their teams and leadership. Don’t reinvent the wheel: professionals can accelerate adoption, reduce friction, and improve outcomes.

These are best practices for any company adopting Agile. But as described in my previous article, hotel companies face three additional impediments that have kept them using old-fashioned “waterfall” approaches well into the digital age. The good news is that these impediments can be overcome.

Change the Executive Mindset

Hotel executives use waterfall because it’s a natural fit for capital projects and day-to-day property operations. It also provides detailed spending projections to satisfy owners watching the bottom line.

In contrast, Agile is a leap into the unknown. It’s not just a new approach; Agile quite literally requires accepting the inherent uncertainty and frequent adjustments of technology initiatives. Executives need to replace their project plans with a flexible mindset.

Because this will be uncomfortable and challenging, executives need to embrace the change. Yes, Agile is different, but that’s because building a digital product is different from renovating a hotel lobby. Executive commitment will help the company overcome the inevitable challenges.

Explicitly connect the Agile adoption to firm objectives. Agile isn’t a management fad; to overcome resistance and inertia, show how Agile will help the company achieve its business goals.

Establish metrics to demonstrate tangible results. It is a common misconception that Agile isn’t measurable. In reality, Agile has many useful metrics, but they differ from traditional project management measurements. Find the right metrics to measure your progress towards Agile adoption and to evaluate team performance.

Finally, adjust your budgeting and planning processes to accommodate Agile. Executives often think that Agile lives only within IT or Digital. In practice, it can’t be disconnected from the rest of the firm. Finance is accustomed to waterfall project estimation and reporting; enabling an Agile, product-based approach will require them to adjust as well.

Overcoming Silos

Agile is based on cross-functional teams that enable collaboration between different functions and stakeholders. But hotel companies are often highly-siloed and geographically dispersed. In addition, hotel companies often depend on external software and services vendors for much of their technology.

There are a number of steps companies can take to help teams succeed in these circumstances. Employees should be definitively moved from their current divisions into their new teams. Temporary or part-time assignments create confusion, frustration, and inefficiency as employees try to juggle different responsibilities. Make sure these employees understand that their performance will now be evaluated based on the new team’s success, rather than on their old division goals.

Set clear expectations for shared working hours and meeting participation, so that dispersed employees can operate as a team. There are powerful video conferencing, chat, and work management tools available to enable remote collaboration; implementing these tools will yield benefits.

Outside vendors pose a particular challenge. You don’t control their schedules or assignments, and since they support multiple clients at once, you’re competing for their time. But they’re still an essential part of your cross-functional team. To incorporate them, negotiate contracts that enable Agile. Require regular participation by vendor staff in your team processes and meetings at an agreed-to schedule, so that you know when and how they are involved. Use contracts that prioritize goals over requirements, business value over schedule milestones, and collaboration over rigid scope.  

Enabling Customer Feedback

Agile focuses teams on value creation. It does this by engaging users for frequent validation and rapid adjustments. Unfortunately, on-property staff are busy with their day jobs and have high turnover, while guests can be infrequent and may not see a reason to participate.

Companies should clearly communicate that customer feedback shapes the products. Most systems are set in stone well before they ever reach the customers, so feedback is pointless. When users see that you’re listening, the feedback will roll in.

In addition, consider incentivizing feedback with small prizes or rewards. This is particularly important for guests, who may only use your systems periodically. The cost of the rewards is negligible, while the benefits of feedback are huge.

Take a disciplined approach to feedback; don’t simply shoot off requests for feedback at random. Establish clear roles, processes, and frequencies, so your customers know what to expect and what’s expected of them.

Finally, don’t forget indirect customer feedback that you can derive from data. Not all feedback has to be verbal. Using digital analytics to see how customers are using a system can reveal patterns that customers may not be able to verbalize.

There is no longer any reason for the hospitality industry to shy away from Agile. With a combination of expert guidance and these best practices, hotel companies can get the same benefits that their peers in other industries have already achieved.

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