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What Is Agile and How Can HR Apply Agile Practices?


I have heard the buzz about Agile HR.  What is Agile and how can HR apply Agile practices?


Not to be confused with the CRM, the “Agile” you’re referring to is “a philosophy, a culture, and a set of management practices,” as defined by Josh Bersin in “Agile HR Has Arrived: And It’s Growing Fast.” 1 Think of Agile as a team-based operational model involving  the creation of small multifunctional teams focused on specific and clear goals empowered to move quickly and efficiently to achieve optimal results.

Origin of Agile

Agile was born out of the software development space just under 10 years ago as a set of  principles designed to significantly increase the speed of the software development process.  Up until this point, a “waterfall” method of development had been applied.   As the complexity of software and teams grew and expanded, the path to project completion became slower and slower.

In an effort to create a better approach, a team of software professionals created the Agile Manifesto2 outlining the following weighted set of core 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

They recognized that while each item above plays a role in the process, they placed higher value on the components of the process that helped them to achieve the best and fastest results.

How Agile can be applied to Human Resources

So what does this software development philosophy have to do with HR? While the definition of Agile stemmed from the software industry, one key transferrable message here is that the pace of business today is fast, and we therefore, must be able to adapt quickly to remain competitive. HR needs to serve as a strategic partner delivering a meaningful influence on the direction of the organization. We need to be able to pave the way to make it easier for organizational goals to be accomplished.

Traditional models of HR are seen as being siloed with bureaucratic processes and cumbersome paperwork that tend to slow down progress and innovation. HR must adapt to remove barriers for Agile principles to take hold.

Develop teams built for speed

Let’s start by restructuring how work gets done. We need to build small, cross-functional project teams composed of individuals who have the necessary expertise and are empowered to learn, experiment, and implement their project solutions. These teams should include not only the functional experts, but also those impacted by their work. We need to balance and, many times, shift our focus away from policies and procedures that stifle forward movement.

The purpose of Agile is to address each problem individually and come up with the best solution, given the circumstances at that time, and in the most efficient way. Once an effective solution is developed or if the circumstances surrounding the problem change, it stands to reason that the goals of the team, and possibly the members that need to be part of it, may change as well. Effectively “reading” each situation and being responsive and flexible as teams progress toward a solution are key.

Customer-focused solutions

Another critical piece to applying Agile to HR is including the voice of the customer in the process. HR’s customer often takes on many faces.  Essentially everyone that interacts with your organization is a customer to Human Resources including candidates, team members, managers, community members, and financial stakeholders.  We must take into consideration the needs and expectations of all key stakeholders in evaluating and developing new processes.  So as we look to develop our project teams, it’s critical to include the corresponding customer base’s perspective.

How to move HR from a Traditional to Agile Approach

There are many ways in which Agile can be applied to key areas of HR. The following are examples provided by HRSG3:

Source: Tech at GSA4 adapted from HRSG3

As you can see from the examples, there are various ways you can use the Agile approach to solve your own challenges and continue to reshape the face of work and the customer experience. Before moving forward, it is important to evaluate your organizational readiness to adopt the process and more significantly, helping to lead the organizational change and mindset shift that will be needed to fully and effectively implement the Agile approach.

To hear from HR professionals working to apply Agile to the world of HR, visit Disrupt HR for short videos to stimulate new thoughts and inspiration.


1 Bersin, Josh. “Agile in HR Has Arrived: And It’s Growing Fast.” JOSH BERSIN, 15 May 2019,

2 “Manifesto for Agile Software Development.” Manifesto for Agile Software Development, 2001,

3 “What Is Agile HR? And Is It Right for You?” HRSG, 18 April 2016,

4 “GSA Tech Guides.” GSA,

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