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Apr 10, 2019 @ 02:04 by Sebastian Straube

5 Tips for an Enterprise to evolve towards “Business Agility”

Taking a look at recent discussions at conferences and in the media, it seems like lean and agile ways of working have infected whole organizations. Agility on team level is the past, today everybody talks about “Business Agility”. In this article, I will demystify the term “Business Agility” and discuss its benefits and challenges. Subsequently, I will give five recommendations that clarify on how to adopt to Business Agility.

What are the latest trends & discussions related to agile ways of working?

During the last month, my colleagues Philipp von Bentivegni, Bruno Zumnorde and I held two session. Both took place at the two largest conferences in the field of agile working (Agile Beyond IT & Transform to agile). On both conferences it was equally visible that the current subject of interest has shifted. Organizations didn’t discuss the way teams can adopt to agile methods anymore, rather they observed the context on the organizational level. Thus, discussions were dominated by questioning how enterprises can become more agile to ensure a faster reaction to market dynamics.

It was further argued that agile transformations cannot only be seen as IT transformations, they can rather be classified as whole enterprise transformations. In this context, particularly the buzzword “Business Agility” was highlighted, which I would like to demystify in the following.

The term “Business Agility” was first used by Charlie Rudd in the white paper "The Third Wave of Agility" in 2016. Today it is defined as the following: “Business Agility is the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways. An extension of this concept is the agile enterprise which refers to an organization that uses key principles of complex adaptive systems and complexity science in achieving success. Business Agility is the outcome of organizational intelligence.”

What are the key benefits of Business Agility?

The Business Agility Report 2018 states that enterprises adopting Business Agility experience tangible benefits from their investments; from new ways of working and leading, increased employee and customer satisfaction, and improved market relevance.

What are the key challenges to Business Agility?

All Business Agility journeys have their own challenges. Nevertheless, there are several common hurdles to overcome: Leadership, lack of buy-in, and inappropriate organization designs.

Let me start by emphasizing the “Leadership” hurdle, which is by far the biggest challenge organizations face when striving for Business Agility. The absence of a motivating leader can lead to stagnation of an enterprise. Leaders often lack an agile mindset, have an unclear or changing vision, and offer limited practical support for the transformation. In short, a transformation lacking the right leadership support fails before it has even begun.

How can enterprises evolve towards Business Agility?

The perfect way for an organization to evolve towards Business Agility does not exist. Each enterprise needs to define its own unique transformation journey. Still, there are some outlined recommendations which applly to every Business Agility Transformation.
Based on the presentations and discussions from latest conferences, I would like to equip you with these five tips:

1. “You can only be as agile as your least agile division, and that’s not IT anymore” – Move the transformation outside IT.

2. “If you do one more transformation in your organization, it needs to be the anti-transformation transformation” – Be evolutionary instead of transformational to become a continuous learning organization by running small experiments to evolve and continuously improve.

3. “Measure what matters” – Change the personal KPIs of each of the executives to promote an agile mindset and behaviour.

4.“A guiding coalition that operates as an effective team can process more information, more quickly. It can also speed the implementation of new approaches because powerful people are truly informed and committed to key decisions.” – Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE). The LACE is a small team of people, usually consisting of senior Lean-Agile Coaches, dedicated to implementing the Lean-Agile way of working. It is often one of the key differentiators between companies practicing Agile in name only and those fully committed to adopting Lean-Agile practices and getting the best business outcomes.

5. “Knowledge workers themselves are best placed to make decisions about how to perform their work.” – Decentralize decision-making. Delivering value in the shortest sustainable lead time requires decentralized decision-making. Decentralizing decision-making reduces delays, improves product development flow and throughput. In the same way, it facilitates faster feedback and more innovative solutions. Higher levels of empowerment are an additional, tangible benefit.

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About the author
Sebastian Straube is a Lean-Agile Enterprise Transformation Manager. He is specialized in large scale agile transformations and agile product management. Furthermore, he is a regular speaker at conferences in the field of lean and agile working.

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