Tag Archives: agile

A Case for Agility

agility

In the past 10 years we have seen an unprecedented acceleration of the rate of change. In his book, Thank You For Being Late, Thomas Friedman chronicles the breadth and pace of disruption in today’s world, identifying 2007 as an inflection point in our transformation — also noting that inflection points are spotted only in retrospect.

In or about 2007, an extraordinary number of new developments began transforming the world we once knew:

  • The number of internet users crossed the one billion mark
  • Apple introduced the iPhone
  • Google bought YouTube and launched Android
  • AT&T led the other telecoms in a huge expansion of transmission capacity to handle a data deluge
  • Amazon launched the Kindle
  • Airbnb was born
  • Intel introduced non-silicon materials
  • Bitcoin was created

Similarly, when speaking at an investor’s conference in 2020, Peter Diamandis, Founder of XPRIZE Foundation, suggested that the pace of change had shifted from linear to exponential!

This acceleration of change and the associated disruption has important implications for business — specifically for the organizational traits and capabilities that determine who will thrive, survive, or fail. The capabilities, knowledge and expertise that got us where we are today are not likely to get us where we need to be tomorrow.

For example, economies of scale once conferred substantial efficiencies that smaller enterprises had to work hard to overcome. While organizational size still enables efficiencies, it also can slow and distort the information flow from customers and markets to the strategic decision makers.

The size of the organization may also increase the difficulty in turning the ship to take advantage of new opportunities and avoid the iceberg ahead.

Simply stated, the speed of change in the market, competition, and technological capabilities has increased desire for greater agility.

Agility has long been a valued practice in software development and project management; but what is organizational agility and how can we get some?

We’ll address this and other questions in our next post.

The “A” Team: (“A” for Agility!)

In the past 10 years we have seen an unprecedented acceleration of the rate of change, and you’ve probably heard people refer to the effect as “disruption” or “dislocation.”

“Disruption is when someone does something clever that makes you and your company obsolete,” says Craig Mundies, former chief of strategy and research at Microsoft, “Dislocation is when the whole environment is being altered so quickly that everyone starts to feel they cannot keep up.”.

Whether we are experiencing ‘disruption,’ ‘dislocation,’ or unprecedented opportunity, we have clearly moved into an era where the extraordinary becomes the expected and subsequently obsolete at an unprecedented rate. This acceleration of change has important implications for business — specifically for the organizational traits and capabilities that determine who will thrive, survive, or fail.

Thus “agility” has become a key component of sustainable success.

Many people say they would like to make their organizations more agile, but few organizations have a formalized strategy to do so.

For many leaders, the planning and management methods mastered on their way up the ladder were designed and effective in a different time, when change moved at a much slower pace. Others might lean more toward the entrepreneurial side, exhibiting high-levels of vision and enthusiasm, but not the team-building or other managerial skills necessary to develop a truly agile environment; and others may simply fail to stay the course.

To gain agility, today’s leaders must incorporate these four “agility enablers” into their operating model:

  • Fast and effective information flows so their enterprise can emulate Wayne Gretzky and “just skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  • Strong leadership and teamwork to turn insight into action; people at all levels must be engaged, involved, and accepting of ongoing change.
  • Relentlessly streamlined and simplified processes in order to handle the more rapid pace of implementation. If the processes that comprise the value stream are held together by patches, expediting, and human vigilance, or are full of inspection, rework, delays, over-specification, redundancies, excess inventory, complexity, etc. it will be very difficult to execute the necessary changes.
  • Flexible investments, as acceleration of change makes acquired assets obsolete faster, so both the investment and hiring strategy should reflect the need for flexibility.

Agility & Change: Are You Ready?

As noted in recent posts, the rapid acceleration in the pace of change that has taken place within the business world over the past ten years has also accelerated the need for organizational agility in both thought and behavior.

Agility and change are inextricably linked.  The goal in most change efforts is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change.

But of course change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels sometimes cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss.

The first step in any change effort, and in maintaining organizational agility, is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that timely change is a constant part of long-term success — this readiness for change will require:

  • Making continuous improvement a permanent part of the organization’s culture… getting people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act, and fostering a culture of open-mindedness and amnesty
  • Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work
  • Effectively using various statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation
  • Enlisting the help of people operating the work processes
  • Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders
  • Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee engagement