It's Time to Make Your Organization Agile

What does your organization need to achieve greater agility?

In many organizations "agile" seems to be the new buzzword. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be surprising if many of those using the term would give you a blank stare when asked to define agile especially in a business-wide context.


So what is enterprise agility? One definition for it would be the ability of an organization to move and adapt quickly in response to shifting customer and market needs. Generally, it means being more adaptable and more responsive — and this should not only apply to businesses but also to professionals.


The reason behind enterprise agility? It's actually very simple. Most of us, organizations and individuals alike, need to transform how we work — or even our whole business model — in order to survive and thrive in today's disruptive world. And not being able to react to disruptions could have disastrous consequences.


Sounds very bleak? Don't worry, not all is lost.


What are the benefits of going agile?


The acronym VUCA is very often used to describe the current dynamic and fast-moving world we find ourselves in. VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College in the late 1980s as an acronym to describe the more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world at the end of the Cold War. This concept has now also been adopted by senior leadership within organizations as they try to navigate today's constantly changing environments


The main cause of change nowadays, the main disruptor, is technology and the tech-shift. And technology is everywhere and affects everything, both our work — suppliers, consumers, services — and our daily lives. This tech-shift means that society has moved through three phases:


The Tech-Supported Phase: This refers to previously manual activities that are now carried out with support from computers, e.g. customer details are no longer written down by hand, but are typed into a computer database.


The Tech-Enabled Phase: In this phase, manual activities have been improved by automation. One example of this would be that customer emails are sent automatically and are based on previous interaction or purchase history.


The Tech-Centric Phase: In this phase, activities only exist because of technology. That's what the future will be.


The tech-shift has its advantages and disadvantages. New technologies have made it easier to enter new markets and therefore offer new opportunities. The gig economy, remote working, cloud storage — those are all possible because of new, disruptive technologies.


But the tech-shift also means that it's very easy to be left behind. Being innovative isn't enough anymore. We all know the story of big brands that have lost their competitive advantage for not accepting change and looking ahead — think Blockbuster or Kodak.


Today, you have to embrace new technologies and make them part of your daily business or the same might happen to you and your business.


How not to do it


While many are now aware of the need to be responsive to disruptors, very often their approach to change is counterproductive.


What will not work is a forced top-down approach or a lack of buy-in from the whole organization. If you try this, people will resist as they simply won't understand why they should change.


What does your organization need to achieve greater agility?

Another common mistake is creating silos that are supposed to work in agile ways, e.g. an agile delivery team or innovation hub. It might give you a startup-ish vibe, but that might not necessarily be helpful or effective.


And while one-size-fits-all might work perfectly well with certain frameworks, it's not the right way for business agility. In order to work successfully, agile approaches need to consider the whole organization and — as the name implies — be flexible.


The right mindset


There are a few basic things that are essential for a successful adoption of agile ways of working. The main one might be obvious: Accept change and uncertainty — it won't go away. It's not about implementing one change initiative and then sitting back and relaxing.


You need to constantly be aware of changing environments. Be aware of your need for change and respond to it.  Organizations also need to understand what is meant by "agile" ways of working and accept that an agile approach might not be appropriate for everything. In other words, don't force it.


It's important that the adopted approach is followed by the whole organization. There won't be any benefits if one team starts working in agile ways, but the rest of the organization stands pat. This could actually have the opposite effect and create confusion when teams try to communicate with each other.


For example, if the marketing team within an organization decides to work on a new campaign using agile methods, but all the other teams that support the campaign's delivery work in different ways, then marketing might eventually be forced to revert to their previous methods in order to finish their job.


Another important factor is the middle management level, as mid-level managers play a key role. They need to act as communicators, supporters, trainers, collaborators, and persuaders. Mid-level managers that inspire their teams, shift their mindset, and get their workers onboard are essential for a successful adoption of agile working.


Five principles of enterprise agility


There are five principles for the while organization that are fundamental for successful transformation. These attitudes and behaviours are:


Change will happen, so embrace it: There's no escaping it. It's important to shift your mindset from "it's forced on me" to "I'm part of it". Empowerment is the magic word here.


Focus on co-creation of customer value early and often: Businesses should try to optimize the value they deliver. For this, it's essential to involve the customer as closely and as early on in the process as possible. This will be a challenge for the entire organization, but it will help to ensure that the customer gets the best service at all times.


Develop an environment where everybody adds value: All staff should feel that they are able to give input and contribute. This empowerment will help get rid of tasks that don't support the objectives of the business. In addition, it will also support continuous service improvement and creativity.


Challenge the status quo: Staff should also be encouraged to ask questions and challenge established practices. This will prevent businesses getting too comfortable with their success which could lead to becoming vulnerable to disruption.


Tailor your approach, and don't be afraid to experiment: Adopting an agile approach must be tailored to teams and the work they are doing. Be willing to find out which way works best for yourself.


These five principles are the rationale behind AgileSHIFT, a new guidance tool from AXELOS Global Best Practice to support enterprise agility. It does this by providing a simple agile framework for organizations and teams to adopt. To find out more about AgileSHIFT and how it can help your organization become more agile, click here.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

John Edmonds has extensive and varied experience in management, particularly change, program and project management. He is the PPM Portfolio Development Manager at AXELOS Global Best Practice and responsible for the oversight of the entire PPM portfolio, which includes PRINCE2®, PRINCE® Agile, MSP®, M_o_R®, MoP®, P3O® and P3M3®. John was also one of the lead authors of AgileSHIFT®.