Recently “Agility” word is more commonly used in business and corporate world along with Innovation, Governance, Business value and Delivery. Often strategist’s emphasis on enterprise strategic agility and resilience with governance. Similarly, IT professionals talk about agile software development in delivery world. Word “agility” usage is good however the concept of agility usage is not good enough and requires level of clarity in corporate and enterprise environment.
I wish to simplify concept of Agility for an organization as ability to make timely, effective and sustained changes that maintain superior performance to generate value. Predominant feature of agility is repeatable value generation. Agile organizations are resilient and nimble with constantly re-adjusting to changing internal and external environment. For example – manufacturing product in brand new factory setup in offshore location or developing new digital marketing channels for existing products or changing business model to cater generation Y customers. All above scenarios require resilience and adaptability over time to generate value internally and externally.
I believe enterprise agility require disciplines and capabilities. Very few organizations are able to generate value, sustain growth, expand in competitive environment and sustain trust of shareholders and stakeholders. Few notable agility disciplines are:
- Strategy – Discipline to establish the vision, purpose, direction and market position of organization with culture of challenging the status quo.
- Perceive – Discipline to sense external environment early and re-establish organization to generate business value early compare to peers in the competitive market.
- Experiment – Discipline of continuous experimentation and learn from ideas validation, fail fast- fail cheap culture in cross department, vendors, partners and customer involving environment.
- Implement – Discipline of orchestrating the support for day-to-day changes in product, operations, structures and system domain. It also includes implementation of new capabilities, business model changes and new strategies.
Enterprise agility demands building and sustaining customer trust with reliable and repeatable business value generation. Agility demands discipline and capabilities at the core of company culture.
Repeatedly designing superior customer experience, fastest return on investment from new products or services, improving quality along with lowering operating costs, continuous internal waste reduction disciplines on routine basis provides differential advantages. Repetitive disciplines develop unique capabilities and plays critical role in allowing organization to continuously change directions, geographies and remain profitable. It also provides resilience against leadership changes, internal unforeseen events, corporate crisis and challenges from competitors and new startup disruptions.
Agility alone is not enough for organization growth sustainability. We need goals aligning throughout the organization, defining roles and responsibilities, establishing accountability for results, systemic approach to reward employees, developing operating budgets, nurturing career capital and day-to-day activities demands key processes. In Peter Drucker’s view organization must have key management processes for planning, organizing, controlling, motivating and others for operationalizing disciplines and capabilities. These key processes work as nuts and bolts for enterprise agility.
All processes characterized to be simple enough and fit for purpose; some of them must be designed for change. Majority of processes design should support strategies and capabilities execution for business value generation. Complex, interwoven and “accountability-less” processes hamper enterprise agility culture. For example governing the manufacturing and delivery processes at companies just need to be extremely reliable and incorporate continuous-improvement tools.
Some flexible and change oriented processes help organization to achieve quick wins and short-term goals. For example, inspect and adopt experimentation demands “light-weight” and nimble processes to quickly try unconventional and disrupting ideas.
Management processes should be aligning resources to strategy and balance system thinking (Plan-do-check-act approach) along with “Inspect and Adopt” approach to focus attention and resources on the economic logic of the company and channel resources to its most important activities. For example, management processes that are central to adaptation, such as resource allocation, performance management, and new product development, speed and flexibility are critical to ensure that new strategies and capabilities can be implemented seamlessly.
- Are we ready to accept and adopt agility culture in our enterprise environment or want to limit it to software application development?
- Are we using culture of experimentation rather than accepting status quo in our strategies, processes, governance, culture and mindset?
- Can we identify our organization stable & reliable process and flexible processes?
Lastly basic building blocks for agility are non-negotiable and must be in place for healthy enterprise growth. Pursuing innovative organizational structures, breaking the rules, and challenging the fundamentals of managing and leading make for great headlines, but they cannot create an effective and adaptable organization.
Agility demands patience and leadership commitment who attend to how the various organizational systems — including management processes — work together. Alignment, another classic management principle, will be as relevant in the future as it is today.