Business Agility – Why should my organization care? Why should we use Agile outside of IT?

Why do we need business agility?

Let’s ask some basic questions in the light of the recent pandemic impact

  • Were you able to continue your business with no impact even though you had to close down the work place and all the staff had to work from home?
  • Was it possible for you to reach out to your customer via alternate channels considering that the customer had restrictions to come in person to your office locations?
  • Keeping in mind we are in for a long haul from pandemic impact to our life and business, do you feel as an organization you can adapt quickly to stay competitive?

All of the above are triggers to think seriously about the need for business agility.

A brief review of recent corporate history shows Kodaks, Blockbusters, and SEARS failing to adapt and losing out to the more agile organizations like Netflix, Amazon, Google etc.

What is Business Agility?

Business Agility is the ability to compete and thrive by quickly responding to market needs that are revenue generating

This is easier said than done and needs serious dedication and perseverance from all levels or an organization.

From my experience as a transformational coach , I suggest organizations not  to emulate the unicorns like Google, Amazon, Netflix etc. because all can’t be like them and all don’t need to be like them as each organizational goal is different and challenges unique so start looking within one’s own context to bring in the needed changes to enable the business agility.

Start with defining how business agility looks like for your organization and typical goals may be

  • Rapidly introduce new products and services
  • Deliver exceptional customer service and satisfaction
  • Respond to changing market demands
  • React and respond to known and unknown risks

How to achieve Business Agility?

To evolve a culture of business agility many changes need to happen at various levels and I will briefly share few key ones in this section.

Leadership and organizational culture

The Trim tab Leaders: -Create an environment for busines agility to thrive

The most common lament from leaders is “my organization is too large! The teams are too resistant!”.

We need to understand the concept of Trim tab as popularized by Buckminster Fuller, architect, inventor, and philosopher.

Fuller introduces the metaphor of  “Trim tab”  a small mini rudder that goes against the current and creates a momentum that allows the main rudder to turn easily moving the entire ship to a new direction , to indicate how a determined leader can bravely usher in a small disruption against the current resistance that results in an environment that supports the larger change making the whole organization move towards business agility

Keep in mind that to be the Trim Tab is not easy and need the leaders to have very strong conviction of values and willingness to persevere.

Delegate authority and encourage accountability

One of the main inhibitors to business agility is delayed decisions resulting from centralized decision making. Empower the leaders at all levels and delegate decision making to avoid delays in critical times. Of course, hold the team to the dialogue from Spiderman “With great power comes great responsibility!”.

Output over outcomes

To assess the success of the business agility goal, focus on  tracking the outcomes like new customer acquisition, higher NPS etc. that are true indicators of success for any business , rather than tracking outputs such as number of features released, number of PI planning completed, low defects etc. as outputs are important as the means to an end but the outcomes are the end that shows us how the customer see us.

Agile organizational model

  • Lean Portfolio Management
    • Visualize flow of value with portfolio Kanban boards
    • Adopt exploratory product development strategy that allows testing hypothesis and quickly pivot to other options as needed to further business agility.
    • Invest in horizons that allow equitable funding of innovation and revenue generation
    • Focus on OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as opposed to traditional metrics
    • Establish TBM (Technology Business Management) practices
  • Flatter and collaborative team structure getting the managers from the corner offices to more open floor model allowing the lean “Gemba” (going to the place of activity) mindset.
  • Train the lean leaders to use tools like Lean-business canvas, portfolio canvas etc. to further agility.
  • Co-located teams as far as possible allowing collective synergy (consider Geo level co-location in distributed teams)
  • Foster environment of psychological safety where employees feel respected and recognized for their contributions
  • Agile contracts with vendors that are value driven and shorter durations than traditional fixed bid or time and material contracts that are long term and budget driven.
  • Training the managers to develop high performing teams .

Agile product delivery techniques

  • Design thinking – This is an approach leveraging diverging ideas and converging decisions to solve design problems.
    • Design thinking also inspires new ways to measure the success of our efforts:
      • Desirable – Do customers and users want the solution?
      • Feasible – Can we deliver the right solution through a combination of build, buy, partner, or acquire endeavors/activities?
      • Viable – Is the way we build and offer the solution creating more value than cost? For example, in a for-profit enterprise, are we profitable?
      • Sustainable – Are we proactively managing our solution to account for its expected product-market lifecycle?
    • Customer Centricity
      • Whole product development approach.
        • The average customer will no longer buy a product that meets basic needs and always wants something unique that gives an elevated customer experience.

Quote by Henry Ford “If I asked the customer what they wanted; they would have asked for faster horses!”.

So, know your customer and anticipate their needs and design products that meet that need the customer may not yet recognize but will value greatly.

  • Identify Customer Personas
  • Practice Empathy Mapping
  • Leverage user journey mapping to understand customer experience factors
  • DevOps
    • Invest in DevOps practices that allow advanced tooling and telemetry to faster deployments and improved monitoring of production issues and shorter restoring time.
    • Establish CI/CD pipeline to enable continuous deployment
  • Architecture agility – Modular designs over monolithic legacy systems
    • Move into modular design of application going away from monolithic legacy systems

I have worked in an Insurance company that was servicing 20 plus states and any time they had a change for any specific state as insurance guidelines are state specific , they had to test all the states as their design was not modular enough to isolate the effort and this caused much delay in delivering anything to market.

  • Invest in ALM tools like Jira or Rally that allows efficient tracking of work progress and allows alignment with single source of truth for data.

The above are pointers to start the business agility journey. If you like what you see and want more dedicated guidance reach out to us!

About the Author: Ram Kollengode is an agile coach and transformational consultant with more than 30 years of experience across a variety of sectors like Banking, Insurance, Telcom etc. Ram is passionate about agile mindset and enjoys time mentoring and training leaders on embracing agility