Only the Agile Survive

Having worked with many organizations going through change (whether small or significant), one thing we’ve learned about agility is that the more agile an organization is, the more change resilient they are, and the more opportunities they manage to pursue.

When the word agile is mentioned, most of us think of the well-known Agile Process developed for faster software development. While the agile process does not fit many business models, there are key tenets in the agile process that can be adopted by any organization that will help it become more change resilient.

Let’s a take look at some of the key principles of the agile process that can be applied to any business:

Providing customer value

This sounds very easy, and yet when we work with organizations on Blue Ocean Strategy, which is also a very customer centric process, we see how hard it is to truly articulate, dispassionately, customer needs.

Why is this? Well for one, teams have to let go of their perceptions and gather real customer insight. This can be particularly hard when a lot of time and effort has been put into a particular initiative, only to find it doesn’t meet customer needs.  We run into the principle of sunk cost.

How to handle this better? Gather customer insight early –  spend more time here than feels right because the true need becomes clear often after repeated discussion.

To be clear, when we talk about the customer in this sense, it’s not just an external customer but also internal customers, essentially anyone that will be affected by the output of your work.

Working together as a team

High performing teams are the key to any organization’s success, after all human beings have been working in teams/groups for millennia. It’s how we achieve remarkable things.

In an agile organization, it’s imperative that teams are focused on collective results, and are not just able, but willing to engage in productive conflict and trust each other.

Once teams have these fundamentals in place, they are able to make better, faster decisions, continually evaluate their progress against the goal, rapidly assimilate new information and course correct as needed.

Being in conversation with each other

There is no substitute for talking things through. 2020 provided us with many challenges and opportunities to see how important this is. Admittedly it has been hard with everyone remote, but just as essential. For us, being in conversation, being respectful of others’ thoughts and opinions, and understanding that what makes an organization successful are the people that work within it, is key to building an agile culture.

Too often we see organizations relying on policies and procedures to cover all eventualities. Unfortunately this can often stifle agility, since to make any substantive change requires time and a lot of effort. Also, it’s almost impossible to have a policy or rule for everything, and this is where culture and values take over.

Organizational values are there to help people make decisions when there is no rule in place. The beauty of this is the speed at which decisions can be made, particularly when faced with an unknown or not previously faced challenge. Most people agree that doing the right thing is the right thing to do, and it’s the values and culture of an organizations that defines the “right thing”. By encouraging conversation and decision-making within a clearly defined values framework is liberating and allows people to make faster, better decisions with lower organizational friction, and greater agility.

Simplicity

Organizational simplicity is directly linked to values and culture mentioned above. We have learned that removing as much organizational friction as possible allows companies to move faster, be more empowering and are much more inclusive.

What is organizational friction?  It’s anything that prevents smooth progress, for example office gossip, a pet peeve of ours, where people are talking about a situation, or person with no intention of doing anything about it. This takes time and mind share away from focusing on the task at hand. Another example is decision-making processes that have to go too high in the hierarchy. For example, one organization we worked with had over 300 people and the CFO was still signing every Fedex shipment. This only serves to slow everything down.

Agile organizations continually look for ways to streamline how work is done, building cultures that are open and built on trust, reevaluating assumptions and pre-conceived ideas of how things need to be done particularly during times of growth.

When we work with organizations, we partner with them to make them more agile, more inclusive, more productive. What areas of your organization could do with a tune up, or even a complete overhaul?

I’ll leave the last words about the importance of agility to Charles Darwin, don’t become extinct!

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin