Agile in HR: What You Need to Know in 5 Minutes

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘HR’? And how about ‘agile’, what image does this evoke? One probably doesn’t immediately lead to the other, does it? And yet together, agile and HR are starting to become more and more like a popular couple. As we know how challenging it can be to stay fully informed on a myriad of different developments, we’ve gathered all you need to know about Agile in HR. To read whenever you have 5 spare minutes in your busy schedule.

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The Agile approach originally comes from the field of software development and has been around for about 15 years. It all started with a few developers coming together to find a more efficient way of creating software. Up until then, projects would often be divided in 4 different phases: analysis, design, code and test. One of the biggest disadvantages of this so-called Waterfall system was that if there were any delays, people would try to make up for the lost time by cutting short the test phase; obviously this had an impact on the quality of the software. Other downsides were the lack of visibility – people never knew exactly where they were in a project – and the fact that developers only got to test their designs at the end. The latter basically means that you don’t know if you’ve built a decent, well-working piece of software until it’s too late.


The Agile approach doesn’t divide a project into different individual stages. Instead, analysis, design, code and test are on-going activities. You can also look at it as a bunch of mini-projects, together creating the bigger picture of the main project. This way of software development has several benefits, the most important one being that testing starts from the very beginning. This allows developers to correct things right away if need be. For customers the Agile approach is better too; they get to make changes without it costing them a fortune.

Since its first introduction in 2001, the Agile approach has become the most popular way of software development and today, a vast majority of software companies is using Agile methods. And the Agile success story – faster, cheaper & customer orientated – hasn’t gone unnoticed, because pretty much any other industry has picked up on it. So now, after marketing, finance and plenty of other business sectors, HR is finally starting to catch up.


Now how does all this Agile theory apply to HR, right? Well, for starters, if all other departments in the organisation are ‘going Agile’ it seems inevitable for HR to follow. But besides simple peer pressure, an Agile approach to HR and all its 21st century challenges, is crucial for the agility of companies as a whole; one can not truly function without the other. An example from Bersin can be found here. But given the countless developments in HR and HR tech recently, it’s shouldn’t come as a big surprise that an agile team of HR professionals is needed anyway..

Let’s have a look now at some more tangible aspects of Agile HR. Elements you can keep in mind, or even implement once you’re going Agile. Here are a few thoughts:

1) Stay Small