Tag Archives: pace of change

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.

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.