So You Think You Can Agile?

This content is syndicated from Agile Development Blog: Scaling Software Agility by Nat Tanner. To view the original post in full, click here.

Your corporate organisation has just publicly declared it’s “agile,” but what does that really mean?

Since the Australian Prime Minister announced, "The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile," we assume he is referring to our role as an agile society and how corporations can enact that change. His proclamation seems to have spurred a great deal of movement by large corporates to respond in their shareholder statements to meet that call to action.

Moving toward business agility means significantly changing the way we work, the way we approach our roles and the way in which, as knowledge workers, we all interact.

In our world, we define business agility as:

The ability of an enterprise to sense and respond to change quickly and confidently—and as a matter of everyday business.

Let’s imagine we take the “a” word out of the corporate statements. Could these ASX 100 listed organisations state that they not only merely respond to change but are sensing (innovating, hypothesising and learning) and creating (experimenting, testing, learning some more)? Once they've evaluated that part of the statement, can they then really lay claim that they do all of these things quickly and confidently?

Agility is a Journey

When considering the organisational impact of this definition, the task ahead for many is daunting. But moving your organisation toward business agility is a journey. You not only need to provide clear executive leadership but make and meet your commitments throughout your continuous improvement effort.

“MIT Sloan reports that agility shows up on both the top and bottom line, with Agile firms growing revenue 37% faster and generating 30% higher profit.”*

In a recent SMH article, nine large Australian enterprises stated that they are adopting more lean and agile organisational and operational business models. All are profitable or have seen significant profit growth in the previous 12 months. Does that mean we can attribute part of their success to becoming or being more agile? We also need to understand how they are sustaining and improving agility, and building an ongoing culture of learning.

Many of the organisations we work with have great team-level IT execution and are now more concerned with how they align their capacity to build the right things (versus building things right) to their business needs over a longer time horizon. They’ve observed some small wins around productivity but are now looking for those larger organisational gains that relate back to the MIT Sloan metric I shared above.

Have they truly taken the learnings from team-level agile up into programs and beyond into their portfolio and investment strategies? Or should we say, are their customers realising value, continuing to engage with these enterprises and paying it forward? A big challenge lies in understanding the goal for change and having the right organisational support to implement it. Then, you need to strive for some level of consistency and repeatability whilst still respecting the definition of agility. Team-level agile is a starting point for many, but realising big change requires consistent commitment across the enterprise.

Sustain Change With an Agile Approach

You don’t change an entire organisation overnight. Once you’ve identified clear leadership and compelling goals for your organisation, you need to take an agile approach—small but committed steps with open communication and feedback loops at each step of the journey. Ensure that you have a well supported executive leadership team that owns the sustainable change and helps steer change across the business. It all requires a combination of education at all levels, a clear roadmap for change and coordinated coaching, facilitation and change management.

I often reflect on how the agile community (the agile of the Agile Manifesto, complete with values, principles, etc.) supports or even contradicts this theme. There is a need for some semblance of consistency for these large enterprises—oh no, did I just tell you we need a framework? How very unagile of you!—a topic for another time perhaps.

The interesting thing here is that everyone in the market—customers, communities, consultants, vendors and partners—wants the same outcome. Improving the way organisations work to ultimately enhance our way of life as a society: eliminating waste and responding to change quickly and confidently (well, at least that’s what my team and I want).

So, one can only live hoping that’s why we're all here—to continue toward autonomy, mastery and purpose and in turn help enterprises do the same. We all want to embrace, educate and coach great outcomes for the people who work in these enterprises. Who doesn’t want to get up and be excited about the day of work ahead and help people improve their capabilities to ultimately create a better society?

It’s obvious we have a great opportunity ahead of us to perhaps even leapfrog other countries with agility. To learn from their failures (failing fast and learning is good, BTW) and reconnect Australia as a place of free thinking and collaborative learning toward a better, more agile society. As John F. Kennedy once said about improving economic reform, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If we all pull together, we can help our enterprises and our government become more agile, increase our economic impact, grow and develop better talent and truly declare that yes, Australia is the agile land down under!


Nat Tanner

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