Last reviewed 2 October 2018

With facilities managers (FMs) being tasked with cost savings and efficiency improvements, Dave Howell looks at what “agile and lean” facilities management actually means today.

What is an agile business?

The lean and agile business is a template for 21st century business. Jim Womack, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the term “lean” to describe how Toyota organise its operations. Today agility has a top priority, as enterprises and organisations accelerate their development of new products and services. Agility can also be applied to facilities management, as it too is tasked with finding new ways to operate an estate more efficiently.

Cost, of course, is a constant pressure that all FMs face on a daily basis. Developing professional standards has historically been a method to improve performance that can be measured and evaluated over time. Total Quality Management (TQM) for instance can trace its roots back to the First World War where quality assurance was needed to ensure manufacturing reached the needed standards.

The European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) excellence model is a non-prescriptive business excellence framework for organisational management, promoted by the EFQM and designed to help organisations to become more competitive. A component of this framework is managing agility across an organisation.

Perhaps the most practical model to promote and manage agility across an organisation that is specific for FMs comes not surprisingly from the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM). Its specification looks closely at how behaviour change can deliver more agile working practices.

The BIFM states: “Unlike traditional workplace changes, which have typically involved ‘one person per desk’ and projects that were largely under the direct control of the FM, the introduction of agile working requires a highly integrated choreography involving close working between IT, telephony, security, FM, interior design, HR, risk, communications, working together within an integrated programme to design, deliver and manage an integrated infrastructure and deliver a concurrent and sustainable change in behaviour.”

Clearly, for all FMs the massive and rapid changes that are taking place in the workplace are driving the need to become a more agile business or organisation. The marketplace is accelerating. Only those enterprises that can keep up with the pace will prosper. From an FM’s perspective this means doing more with the available resources.

Lean and keen

Jeff Smith, former Chief Information Officer at IBM told Forbes: “With the world changing at such a fast pace, organisations and employees must be agile by continuously adapting to situations, addressing problems and re-evaluating progress. This is important for leadership, collaboration and delivery practices to allow organisations in any industry and of any size to be more successful.”

When agile businesses are described, a critical component of their agility is how they organise their workforces and the spaces they use. Anabas, in its review of office workers concluded: “Much is made of how companies continually pursue efficiency gains. But in reality, organisations are equally focused on improving quality, increasing customer engagement and retaining the top talent among employees.

“Businesses are waking up to the potential of ‘agile working’ which encompasses a number of deep-rooted beliefs: Getting closer to the customer through early and continuous engagement. Empowering individuals and teams with a high degree of autonomy in the way that they do their work. Building projects around motivated individuals. This means giving them the environment and support they need to trust them to get the job done and creating a climate of team self-learning, whereby mistakes are not reprimanded but are seen as an opportunity to learn.”

Work/life balance

For FMs, a motivated workforce is a productive one. Agile and lean operations mean new flexible ways of working. This isn’t just geographically dispersed teams, but an understanding of how work is done at a fundamental level. Work/life balance is now paramount, which is why the world is seeing a huge increase in the numbers of people adopting a “portfolio career” often having what has been dubbed a “side hustle” as well as traditional paid work. Agile businesses need to change to accommodate this radical shift in the employee/employer relationship.

It is though, important to understand that agile isn’t necessarily faster. Agile needs to be placed into the context of what FMs need to achieve. In Government, for instance, the Transformation Strategy pledges to “strengthening our leaders’ skills in agile project and programme management”.

Commenting on the publication of the Strategy, Mary Henson, Chief Executive of the Agile Business Consortium said: “Agile has a proven track record in assisting organisations of all sizes to become more flexible and implement successful project management programmes. Adopting the principles that underpin Agile will help the Government meet its goal to continuously hone and improve services.”

Agility then, is a proposition that all FMs can embrace. The roadmap to attain agility will first need to be defined. This is based upon a clear understanding of the goals a business or organisation is working towards. This could be simply more flexible working, a new working environment across an estate, or more fundamental change in how processes are managed.

Agile facilities

Enterprise agility has many facets that FMs will need to manage as a holistic whole. Making small changes to an office space for instance can have an impact, as can moving to more flexible working practices. These can deliver a level of agility that FMs are looking to achieve.

However, as PwC points out, agility today has many moving parts, but these can be managed with a detailed plan that is well executed: “Agility is the strategic mix of standardisation and flexibility, targeted at those organisational pressure points where they’re not only needed today, but will most likely be needed tomorrow,” the organisation stated in its report How to Build an Agile Foundation for Change.

Continuing: “With the right mix of process standardisation and flexibility in place, business leaders can efficiently anticipate and execute on change, turning scenario planning from a theoretical exercise into a real decision shaper. Knowing that significant change can be supported operationally, they can then develop a roster of business model alternatives, any of which can be quickly implemented in response to market shifts without tearing apart infrastructure or sapping efficiencies.”

The strategic response to changing market conditions is driving agile working practices to the top of the business agenda. Rapid changes in communications, workforces that demand more flexibility, markets that are seeing shorter and shorter product development cycles and a shift to customer-centric business, are all pushing businesses and organisations to become leaner operations that can respond to these changes with ease.

Your checklist

The age of agility is here. Use this checklist to start your journey to becoming a more agile business or organisation:

Is there a willingness to change?

Answering this question is fundamental, as moving to more agile working practices could mean major changes have to take place. Friction can often be present across management and a workforce to change. FMs need to develop a convincing strategy that illustrates the tangible benefits that can be obtained with more agile working systems.

Engaging the workforce

Many of the changes that will need to take place will directly impact on the workforce an FM is managing. Motivating these groups to embrace agility can be achieved through education. Look for agile advocates who can champion the changes that need to take place.

Test new systems

Becoming a more agile business or organisation could mean adopting new ways of working using new tools. Testing these services with small groups is vital before they are rolled out across an entire organisation, to ensure they do deliver the intended efficiency gains.

Develop scalable and flexible processes

Agile working practices must not be hampered by inflexible communications. Free-flowing information that is shared is one central component of what it means to become agile. Information should be open, which enables everyone to perform at their highest ability.

Create a new agile culture

Many businesses that have become more agile have a shared purpose and vision that everyone from the CEO to individual employees understands and supports. Recognising that a change in attitude is the hardest part of agility to achieve, FMs need to work on this aspect of their agile planning to develop an almost “start-up attitude” within their businesses.