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Mixed Human-Robo Agile Teams: The Future is Now

Robotization has gained the attention of companies and markets across all sectors. According to research on digital customer support, Dutch consumers have high confidence in robo-advice and consider digital advisers as reliable as their human counterparts. As collaborations between artificial intelligence (AI) and Agile teams become the new normal, organizations must embrace a new way of working. Rather than a far-off, sci-fi fantasy, the future is now. Is your organization ready?

A Shift in the Market
Robotization will continue to accelerate innovation, disrupting and changing the paradigm of business operations in many industries. It will free companies to change how day-to-day tasks are performed and the fundamental way employees work. As with many technological changes, this brings fear. People worry that robotization will decimate the job market, leaving the vast majority unemployed. But the good news is, this is far from reality. Robotization will create greater opportunities for employees to retrain and uplevel their skills to perform more strategic duties within organizations. 

Change in the Nature of Jobs
Robotization won’t take over people’s entire jobs, but it will take over some of their tasks, particularly those that involve collecting and processing data (Figure 1). The focus will shift to providing integral advice in complex customer situations. According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs - 2016,” the required professional skills of 2020 will be problem-solving ability, critical thinking, and creativity. 

Customer situations and the advice needed to resolve them will become so complicated that individual advisors won’t be sufficient. Collaborations with AI will allow employees to focus
more on the strategic and creative tasks involved in providing the quality customers demand.
Agile teamwork will become even more critical than it is today.

Benefits of a Robo-Advisor
Robo-advisors provide digital advice with little to no human supervision. They are powered by artificial intelligence, mathematical rules, or algorithms, depending on the complexity and capabilities required. Robo-advisors first appeared in the financial world but soon spread into other industries as legal and product advisors. 

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Thanks to their accuracy, reliability, 24/7 availability, and cost-saving rationality, robo-advisors are a huge leap forward for organizations and customers alike. However, according to an article posted April 25, 2018, on, “The 4 Advantages of Human vs. Robo-Advisors,” customers still want integral advice that involves human emotion, accountability, flexibility and tailored services, especially in complex situations. The limitations of the technology and a human need to establish trust mean people and robo-advisors must collaborate as a team.

The Mixed Human-Robo Team
A mixed human-robo team contains all the multi­disciplinary skills required to achieve a particular purpose. As with a typical Agile team, five to seven members are ideal, but the size of the team depends on its area of focus, the disciplines needed, and the amount of human attention required for each robo-advisor. For example, in addition to their personal tasks, human advisors must also:

  • Feed the robo-advisors with any new strategy and product information by modifying rules, patterns, or the AI neural network.
  • Validate that the robo-advice is correct and stays within the law, as it is still the responsibility of the humans on the team.

Agile’s Added Value 
An Agile human-robo team collaborates with the customer. It uses a change-responsive, flexible strategy for increasingly complex questions. Advice must be relevant and timely, even if the questions have never been asked. Cooperation will become more critical than ever before. Agile adds value by creating focus, priority, and by stimulating team autonomy in three important areas:

  • Critical thinking - Mixed Agile teams form “think tanks” to solve complex problems and learn new strategies. 
  • Integral advice - Mixed Agile teams provide human emotion,
    accountability, flexibility and tailored services, especially in complex situations.
  • Responsibility - Mixed Agile teams regulate the advice given by robo-advisors, as the humans are still ultimately responsible. 

Agile methods help teams visualize the work that needs to be done and create a flexible strategy. Letting go of the less complex activities and giving them to the robo-advisors adds value and quality, creating vital improvements overall.

Initial Experiments
Robotization has become standard in manufacturing. Other industries, such as sales and legal, are still in an experimental phase with advising technologies. Many platforms provide financial advice and cloud-based solutions, and chatbots are becoming more common. With chatbots, customers experience a “conversation,” but the advice doesn’t come directly from humans. Agile teams feed the robo-advisors with rules, patterns, and logic. In this way, organizations provide enhanced advice that’s more analytical and data based.

Support Mixed Teams
When guiding mixed Agile teams, consider the following focus points:

  • Future - Cleary state the future. Focus on the new, added value and describe what is expected from the team.
  • Letting go - Letting go is one of the most challenging aspects of working with mixed teams. Sometimes giving direct advice seems more straightforward. However, humans make mistakes. It’s essential to stimulate a “think tank” focus.
  • Skills - The new skills required for even newer roles, such as data scientist and ethical hacker, are becoming more critical. Focus on developing craftsmanship.
  • Team autonomy - Solving complex problems requires multiple disciplines, especially under a time crunch. An Agile mindset and collaboration can create a high performing team. Reward team results.

Agile Next Future
Collaboration between team members will become more critical. Robo-advisers will replace some professions and make others obsolete, while newer occupations like ethical hackers and data scientist will become more in demand. Agile can help teams do what robotizing alone cannot (yet); focus on creativity and solving complex problems. 

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