Build foundation for organisational agility

The most agile organisations are succeeding by establishing a solid framework around strategy, culture, leadership, people and process, says Craig Killough, Project Management Institute’s vice president, organisation markets

Regardless of size or market sector, every successful organisation shares a common feature – the ability to pivot and implement quickly in order to achieve competitive advantage.

In a world of fluctuating economies, unpredictable sales trends and thin profit margins, an agile enterprise has the ability to stay one step ahead of its less nimble opponents by planning for change and evolving to meet new challenges in its business environment.

Organisational agility can be defined as the ability to change or adapt rapidly in response to market conditions or other external factors, which can include new competitors, emerging technologies, customer demands, and sudden economic and sociopolitical shifts. All these require effective communication as well as proper change and risk management for survival.

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Craig Killough, Project Management Institute’s vice president, organisation markets

It can also include much more than the widely used project management tools and techniques of agile and other approaches. In fact, agile approaches to project management and formal project management can, and do, co-exist successfully.

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. Agile allows teams to deliver projects piece by piece and make rapid adjustments as needed.

Agile is not done in place of managing a project. Rather, it is frequently introduced as a way to speed up the phases of a project. Though the term “agile” has been used in project management for the past decade to refer to a series of specific practices and approaches, organisations now recognise more value when they think broadly of organisational agility as a strategic competence rather than a set of tools and templates.

So, what creates organisational agility? Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Capturing the Value of Project Management Through Organisational Agility indicates some concrete leading practices at the core of success. They start with a firm grounding in the basics of project management, including an appreciation for the value of experienced and well-trained professionals, and the standardised programme management practices they use.

Agile organisations actively engage executive sponsors, align projects to strategy, and establish a well-aligned and effective project management office (PMO). They also have better communicators, more collaboration and more engagement. They are change enablers and manage risk effectively.

It’s about anticipating, identifying, developing and implementing change

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It is the combination of all these elements that has led to their ability to adjust and adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. On their journey to becoming more agile, successful organisations overcome many barriers, including slow decision-making, cultural mindsets that don’t support agility, lack of executive engagement or leadership, little communication between departments and unclear organisational vision or strategy.

How can you eliminate these roadblocks? Pulse research identifies five essential practices for creating a framework of organisational agility.

1. Create a supportive company culture

 True organisational agility arises from a company-wide mindset that embraces change and is fueled by disruptions to the status quo. Organisations are more likely to nurture a supportive culture when they fully understand that projects and programmes drive change. They understand that when projects fail, so do profits because organisations are less likely to achieve strategic goals. Creating a supportive culture promotes responsiveness throughout the company. Organisations should create ways to capture the values of openness, transparency, respect, knowledge, improvement and adaptation.

2. Maintain strategic flexibility

Organisations with an agile mindset adapt quickly to changing market conditions and are better prepared for new opportunities. As the Pulse study indicates, 73 per cent of organisations report that being flexible and adaptable are the most important characteristics of an agile organisation when it comes to staying on track with strategy. Being good at change management – an essential organisational capability that cascades across and throughout project, programme and portfolio management – supports that strategic flexibility. It’s about anticipating, identifying, developing and implementing change.

3. Establish collective leadership

 One of the barriers to increased organisational agility is the lack of executive engagement or leadership. But when leadership shares a common view of the organisation’s strategic goals and develops the proper strategic response with sufficient support, organisations are more agile. Those with highly developed cultures of organisational agility are nearly three times more likely to have their top leadership aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation, according to the Pulse study. Executive buy-in is essential in creating a trickle-down effect for acceptance of the agile mindset at all levels, in all departments.

4. Fill key positions with the best people

Organisations that elevate the roles of project and programme managers as strategic talent are more prepared to capitalise quickly on new opportunities and initiatives. The Pulse study reports that 41 per cent of organisations are extremely or very focused on the training and development of employees in project management, 18 per cent focus on programme management and 13 per cent focus on portfolio management. But technical skills are not enough. Successful organisations want additional skills in leadership and business intelligence, competencies that support longer-range strategic objectives. The ideal skill set – the PMI® Talent TriangleTM – is a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise.

5. Utilise adaptive processes

PMI’s Pulse research reports that organisations with highly developed cultures of agility are twice as likely to use standardised project management practices. These organisations are also more likely to adapt their project management approaches – 95 per cent compared with 72 per cent of organisations with underdeveloped cultures – and create hybrid management models that fit their unique organisational cultures. In addition, agile organisations have solid risk management processes, which allow them to be more flexible and manage obstacles more fluidly.

In today’s fast-moving, perpetually changing market, a culture of organisational agility that enables projects and programmes to be completed faster and better than ever before is an essential strategic competence. Agility is the result of numerous factors, but crucially it is an organisation’s ability and willingness to change.

 pmi.org.uk