Tag Archives: agility

Four Agility “Enablers”

agility

Our previous post shared perspective on how to develop organizational agility, and noted that to do so leaders must build in their organizations four enablers:

  1. Create fast & effective information flows. We’d all like to be Wayne Gretzky and “just skate to where the puck is going to be.” What a brilliant idea! Of course, if we knew where the puck was going to be, everyone would be there. We don’t know. That’s why we need to build fast and effective information flows so that when indicators emerge about developing changes in the customers or markets, we spot them quickly. Here are some things we can do to accelerate critical information flows.
    • At each customer touchpoint, we need to solicit, capture, and quickly flow back feedback to be understood, prioritized and used to improve the work and better align the products and services with customer values and unmet needs.
    • Engage in rapid prototyping with customers. Develop small experiments and try them out with some real customers to accelerate learning about what they really think, want, and value.
    • Find out what data you have available, and develop ways to use it to understand how your customers are using your products and services. Many businesses have access to an astonishing amount of information, but do not yet know how to use it. Start by identifying the questions you and your team would really like to answer — and then explore what the data can tell you. When millions of answers are available, the advantage goes to whomever has the best questions.
    • Accelerate internal communication
  2. Strong leadership and teamwork to turn insight into action. Here are some things a leader can do to create the strong teamwork needed to operate with agility:
    • Foster trust on the team. Knowledge is becoming obsolete at a faster rate than at any time in history, so an agile team must be absolutely fearless about admitting their gaps in knowledge and questioning what they have long believed. This challenging, learning and growing does not happen when team members cannot let their guards down.
    • Establish a cadence of frequent and effective team communications: both formal and informal. These ensure the team is on the same page, and even able to write a really good page together.
    • Time is short and agile management teams leverage the tools available to help them get further faster. Some examples include affinity diagramming, interrelationship diagrams, cause & effect diagrams, FMEA, prioritization matrices, and quality tables.
    • Because innovations and process improvements have a shorter shelf life than ever, they must be executed more quickly. Make and stick to prioritization decisions and use a Kaizen approach or Design Sprints to accelerate results.
  3. Streamlined, simplified processes. If the processes that comprise your 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. you will find it very difficult to execute changes you need. An agile organization must relentlessly streamline, simplify, and error-proof the work.
  4. Flexible Investments. Acceleration of change makes acquired assets obsolete faster, so both the investment and hiring strategy should consider the need for flexibility.
    • When making investments, consider what choices we could make today that will ensure the asset retains value if the expected use disappears.
    • How quickly and easily can this asset scale up, scale down, or change uses?
    • What skills should we hire for?
    • When should we use contract resources?

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.

Driving “Agility” with Quick Wins a Must in the “New Normal”

Recent posts have focused on the pace of change and the critically-important role of organizational agility.

One way to both reinforce and drive agility is to achieve “quick wins.”

According to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and The Heart of Change, creating “quick wins” builds momentum, defuses cynics, enlightens pessimists, and energizes people.

The key elements of a “quick win” are right there in those two words: it’s got to be quick and it’s got to be successful.

A “quick win” must be completed in 4 to 6 weeks at most, but many are implemented much faster such as in a kaizen blitz where a small group focuses full time on an improvement for a day or two, or half-time for a week.

For a solution to become a “quick win” it is almost always an improvement that can be completed with the people closest to the work and with the resources close at hand. Sometimes a “quick win” is a high value improvement executed with speed. But even an improvement with small dollar impact can have a great ROI — because the time and expense invested is so low and the organization begins reaping the benefits so quickly.

Because of the speed imperative, if a solution requires a significant capital investment, it is not going to be a “quick win.” If it requires a large team or cross-functional buy-in, chances are it will be a slow win if it succeeds at all. Many “quick wins” do not require a formal team; often a natural work team can identify the problem and implement a quick solution.

Given shifting marketplace expectations and the rapid pace of change with which we have all become accustomed, finding new and better ways of eliminating waste and satisfying customers, and doing so quickly, is likely to be a “must” in the new normal.

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, Readiness & Change

Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt!

Rapid acceleration in the pace of change has taken place within the business world over the past ten years. This fact 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 fact, people at all levels tend to react with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the “FUD” factor) when new ideas, processes, policies or procedures are introduced; and many cringe at the mere 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 input from of people operating the work processes.
  • Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders.
  • Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee capability and engagement.

How to Develop Organizational Agility

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, as noted in our previous post, 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:

  1. Fast and effective information flows so their enterprise can emulate  Wayne Gretzky and “just skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  2. Strong leadership and teamwork to turn insight into action; people at all levels must be engaged, involved, and accepting of ongoing change.
  3. 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.
  4. Flexible investments, as acceleration of change makes acquired assets obsolete faster, so both the investment and hiring strategy should reflect the need for flexibility.

Organizational Agility?

Our previous post summarized the rapid acceleration in the pace of change that has taken place within the business world over the past ten years, and how the speed of change in the markets, competition, and technological capabilities has increased desire for greater agility.

So, how might we define organizational agility?

Some tend to think of being agile as being synonymous with being entrepreneurial, because vision, leadership, rapid decision making, and an intense customer focus are all necessary for agility. But the concepts are really not the same, as many entrepreneurs are not overly agile. In fact, many tend to “go it alone” and fail to leverage their organization’s knowledge and capabilities to make the most of developing opportunities.

Organizational agility is the ability to identify the developing threats and opportunities to the organization’s mission, and to quickly align or realign resources to thrive in the new or emerging environment.

Agility requires these two components:

  1. The ability to see and understand the external developments and what they will mean for the organization
  2. The ability to quickly adapt resources to leverage the emerging opportunities and to avoid the looming threats

These two key abilities together provide a profound competitive edge in an era of quickly-accelerating developments, and enable an agile organization to truly thrive.