Agile seems to be the new buzz word in business. There is a lot of talk in the market about it right now. It seems every day we are hearing about a company who is immersed in some sort of agile transformation.
While there seems to be an agreed view on what Agile is and what it can do as a methodology for software development teams; we see a lot of confusion in the market when we talk about broader business agile transformation.
Here is our take on Organisational Agility:
We believe that for companies to achieve organisational agility, they need to think about it at three levels in their organisation: Ways of Working, Lean Portfolio Management and Organisational Ethos. So what does this mean?
- Ways of Working:
This is what we usually associate agile with: the practices, tools and methodologies that have helped succeed software development teams across the globe. This is where we find stand ups, retrospectives, visual management boards, sprint planning sessions, etc.…
It is about working better; in a more transparent and collaborative way. If done well, teams will achieve better communication, collaboration, empowerment and engagement. And by the way, this can be applied to any team – not just software development teams, we have seen it work successfully in any team.
- Lean Portfolio Management
If Ways of Working is about working better; the second level is about making sure we are doing the right work. One of the risks of agile is that you can be doing the wrong work, faster.
A Lean Portfolio Management approach gives large organisations the opportunity to innovate and increase their speed to market - just like a start up.
Here organisations need to look at the way they decide what work gets done; how it gets funded, how they assess the success of their portfolio of initiatives and how quickly their processes and systems of work allow them to pivot.
Some of the common mistakes we see here are the budgeting processes or having the same tools and systems of work for different type of initiatives (i.e.: asking people to prove the ROI of a new idea the same way we do for our existing known products).
- System of Work
And finally the third level to achieve organisational agility (and probably the most important) is what we call system of work. You can also call it “organisational ethos” or “how things get done here”, or “the culture of a place”.
This is where companies should look not only at their operating model and structure but also at their processes and procedures. A great example we often see is when executives want their teams to collaborate more but when we ask them if their people’s KPI’s are individual or team based, …I guess you know the answer.
Companies that were born in the last 15 years (especially digital) have a great advantage over older and more traditional companies. These younger digital companies were born with an “agile heart and mindset” and, usually, have grown maintaining that ethos. If more traditional companies want to operate, innovate, attract and retain talent and behave like new digital companies; they will need to do a bit more than just adding a Ping-Pong table to their kitchen area or put a few post-it notes on their walls; as the real transformation comes often from changing the system of work.
Another way to look at it is using a continuum - Operational Agility to Strategic Agility; ways of working sits at the bottom, lean portfolio management in the middle and system of work at the top:
Although, at The Agile Eleven, we believe that there is probably another step on top of Strategic Agility that we call: Developmental Agility. Developmental Agility refers to the responsiveness of the organisation and its people to learn faster than the complexity of the work being undertaken by the organisation which, in turn, allows the organisation to capitalise upon even greater levels of complexity. An organisation’s collective Developmental Agility is best understood by considering the collective capacity, capability, confidence and coherence of the people who make up the organisation.
What goes wrong?
If businesses need to transform themselves at all three levels to achieve organisational agility; why do some organisations get it right when others don’t? In our view, it has to do with another continuum line that sits in the x-axis - going from “rigid framework” on the left to “tailored approach” on the right
We see many organisations trying to solve their agility problems by implementing (shoehorning) some framework or methodology in the operational level (scrum, kanban, etc…) and /or at the strategic level (Less, SAFE, the Spotify model, etc.) without considering the context of the organisation (market, size, culture, etc.) – and that usually creates organ rejection especially in non-software development teams.
On the other hand, we believe that a more successful approach will be to use the mindset and principles that come with agile: cross functional collaboration, customer and purpose led teams/organisation, rapid iteration, lean culture, etc. and develop the model, approach, tools and practices that work better for your teams and organisation.
And finally, the million-dollar question we get asked all the time is: where do we start? At which level? Our answer is simple: start where you can and iterate from there. While there is merit in having a coordinated approach from the top; we have seen successful agile transformations that have started from the bottom up - read the Vicinity Centres story here.