The benefits of being agile

Seeking organisational agility? Begin with the fundamentals and develop a workforce of project managers who are also skilled in agile practices

As the speed of business innovation quickens and budgets tighten, more organisations are struggling to keep pace and successfully execute the strategic initiatives that will keep their companies competitive.

Shifting market trends and changing project requirements often create a moving target that can drain resources and hinder project success. As a result, adaptable and nimble organisational structures have become a necessity. “A key measure of whether we as a business are getting better is if we are able to keep up with the accelerated rate of change and growth,” says Bob Prieto, senior vice president at Fluor Corporation. “If you’re standing still in this economy, you’ll get run over.”

To survive, many successful organisations incorporate an agile mindset, which increases an organisation’s ability to adapt project resources and priorities to overcome unexpected roadblocks, risks or market changes. The companies that have integrated agile thinking successfully are seeing the results.

According to Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Organisational Agility, highly agile organisations are twice as likely to have increased success with their new initiatives as their counterparts with low agility. Agility may also be linked to profitable growth. Research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that agile firms grow revenue 37 per cent faster and generate 30 per cent higher profits than non-agile companies.

“Being adaptable and flexible enables project owners to correct course early when problems arise,” says Brian Clark, executive manager of enterprise services portfolio at Suncorp. “That’s the only way you can maximise the value you get out of your projects.”

While the need has become increasingly evident, becoming an agile organisation remains elusive to all but a handful of companies. The Pulse of the Profession study indicates that only 12 per cent of organisations characterised themselves as highly agile. More specifically, the report reveals a wide array of standardised practices that highly agile organisations said they use always or often, including project task simplification, interdisciplinary project teams, and the use of iterative techniques in portfolio and programme management.

True organisational agility should be part of a company’s DNA, and is manifested in the business processes that align projects and programmes with organisational strategy to spur innovation while reducing waste

Given the myriad factors contributing to high organisational agility, it can be said that the incorporation of an agile mindset is more of an evolution than a single change event. It’s simply not enough to issue a company-wide edict and fly an agile banner from the roof.

“True organisational agility should be part of a company’s DNA, from the research lab to the project office to the executive team,” says Project Management Institute president and chief executive Mark A. Langley, “and is manifested in the business processes that align projects and programmes with organisational strategy to spur innovation while reducing waste.”

To this end, the Pulse of the Profession report identifies three critical competencies that help drive greater organisational agility:

1. MASTER CHANGE

Organisations effective at change management are more agile, not only reducing the impact of external changes, but also capitalising on the opportunities they may present. The report reveals that 92 per cent of organisations highly effective at change management report high or moderate agility. That’s almost three times more than organisations that are less adept at managing change.

2. MANAGE RISK

When organisations are forced to make rapid-fire decisions, they can sometimes lose control. Effective risk management helps executives and project leaders identify and mitigate the factors that could sabotage success. In the report, 90 per cent of organisations effective at risk management reported high or moderate agility – more than double their lower-performing counterparts.

3. STANDARDISE PROJECT AND PROGRAMME MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

When organisations standardise their project management practices throughout all departments, they are three times more likely to report high agility than their counterparts that don’t. While some persist in the belief that agile practices and traditional project management techniques are at odds, this is unequivocally untrue, according to the study. Standardisation using proven project and programme management approaches is an essential part of enabling an organisation to be successful when adding agile approaches. The study also shows that organisations which always or often use portfolio management are three times more likely to report they are highly agile than those that don’t actively manage their portfolios.

By investing in these three core practices, organisations improve agility – giving them that elusive edge in a fast-paced, dynamic market.

The first step towards building an agile organisation is to create the team that will be guiding the projects which carry out a company’s strategic vision. Practitioners with solid skills in project management, including capabilities in implementing agile practices successfully, should form the core of that team.

The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® credential validates a practitioner’s ability to understand and apply agile principles and practices on projects. It stands apart from other certifications because it requires a combination of agile training, experience working on projects that have used agile approaches, and an examination on agile practices, tools and techniques. It also bridges agile methodologies, including Scrum, Lean and Kanban.

PMI’s Mr Langley says: “As more and more organisations incorporate agile approaches into their project and programme management activities, there will be an ever-increasing need for experienced practitioners who can apply the techniques to turn those aspirations into actions. The PMI-ACP credential is purpose built to fulfill the need for qualified professionals.”

Organisations that adopt agile mindsets reap rewards on multiple levels. There is, of course, no magic bullet for staying ahead, especially during tumultuous economic times. However, organisational agility is proving to be a powerful tool in ensuring success. By adopting agile principles and developing a workforce dedicated to their effective implementation, organisations are making an investment in their company culture that will pay considerable dividends in the future.

To find out more please visit www.pmi.org.uk