Agility – moving beyond the buzzword

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Why adopt an agile mindset?

A lot of our clients appreciate the benefits of adopting an agile mindset, as well as agile working practices.  And this makes a great deal of sense, after all, we’re living in an age of major business disruption and innovation.  Modern business must deal with a plethora of challenges, from regulation, compliance and new technologies, to the economy and exploitation of big data.  Most of these challenges can also represent opportunities, if you’re in the right shape to take advantage of them.

This led me to think about how organisations message around agility (agility in terms of organisational culture and mindset, not Agile Project Management – although these two concepts are most definitely not mutually exclusive), and how they ensure everyone is on the same page with regard to what it actually means to be agile.  Agility can often be seen as an abstract concept that is not grounded in the operational reality of an organisation; I often hear conversations around agility along the lines of, ‘but what does it really mean for us?’ Or ‘agility means speed over quality’.

 What does agile really mean for an organisation and its people?

Agility does not mean unplanned or risky, quite the opposite in fact. The goal is to be nimble and flexible – ready to pounce on opportunities, or to change course to avoid inevitable problems. To be agile, an organisation and the people within it must have a clear goal in mind with waypoints to check if the plan is on target.

Here are five principles to help you convey what agility really means in the context of your organisation:

  • Stability – to be agile and adaptive the organisation and its processes must be stable. That is stability in the sense of the organisation’s propensity for flexibility, reliability and resilience.  This is where stability and predictability should be seen as enablers for agility – many large organisations have these attributes – use them to your advantage.
  • Flexibility – this is the ability to course-correct mid project/initiative or in more extreme cases to change direction entirely.  This requires people within the organisation to accept that, ‘what was right then may not be right now’.  This is where the real mindset and behaviour change comes in, so take time get the right message across.
  • Speed – a primary benefit of agility is the speed with which things happen, while maintaining the quality of output.  This could be getting a new drug to patients, taking advantage of an emerging technology or an untapped market opportunity.  This is an output of an agile organisation, not a personal trait to ‘do things fast’.  It comes from a stable base and flexibility of mindset.
  • Culture – think about the culture of your organisation.  How do the behaviours and accepted norms fit to the principles of agility?  Tune in to those cultural aspects that align with agility and think carefully about how to message around those that may be in conflict.  This is not insurmountable and can be achieved by following a process to find the answer which is right for your organisation.
  • Get creative – we know that the best messages are ‘sticky’ in that that they are easily communicated, get re-used and tell a story.   A great way of achieving this is to represent your agile story visually.  With clear and concise thinking, which is represented with a visual identity, you will get a better spread of awareness and desire to engage with these new agile principles.  Check out our blog post on The Impact of Storytelling on Change Programmes.

 

In summary, the only way an organisation can adopt an agile mindset is when all of its people truly understand the principles of agile, the advantages to the business and the benefits to them as individuals.

 

If you have any further ideas on what agile means to you or your business, or experiences of how you or your organisation adopted an agile mindset, then get in touch via the comments below.