Making agile a success

Agility gives organisations the ability to respond quickly to both challenges and opportunities, but leadership teams need to ignore the jargon and clearly understand the level of agility and outcomes they want.

The hype around agile ways of working has led to many different solutions and approaches being introduced in companies without necessarily having a comprehensive vision of the end-result that is being pursued. There is little point in just seeking out agility unless there is a shared understanding of what the business hopes to achieve.

John Roberts, director at consultancy Proteus, has identified three different levels of agility that organisations can target, depending on their goals.

“Levels of agility have fundamentally different desired states, but can live in harmony with each other. Business agility gives organisations the ability to respond better and cheaper to ever-changing business circumstances, with project agility focusing on delivering projects at a lower cost and faster, and product agility working towards delivering product developments more efficiently,” says Mr Roberts.

Each of these levels require fundamentally different building blocks to be in place. A common failure is the mismatching of the desired agility level with the right set of building blocks. For example, leaders may want business agility and expect the entire organisation to change how it operates.

A common failure is the mismatching of the desired agility level with the right set of building blocks

However, adopting a ‘product agility’ set of building blocks and tasking the ‘technology department’ to implement it will lead to failure. The adverse consequences of this approach can be significant and result in the business “doing agile” rather than “being agile”.

Senior leadership need to be satisfied they have a shared and common understanding of the level of agile ambition and ensure that this is traceable to the approach being undertaken. This lack of traceability and how “being agile” is implemented are the two most common reasons for agile failure.

Whatever level of agility the company decides to commit to there will be significant change to the current ways of working, and will require new behaviours and capabilities. There will be different scales of culture change needed depending on the agility level sought. This required culture shift itself should be managed as a transformation initiative rather than a ‘method’ replacement or an IT-driven initiative. Equally, the leadership team should make a firm commitment to create the right environment for success and role model the new way of working.

“It is a two to three-year culture transformation programme in itself and should be approached as such. It is not a simple structural, process change or a commitment to adopt the agile jargon or to give it to IT to implement. It requires leadership, proactive engagement and commitment, as well as a change to risk appetite to deliver an agile transformation programme,” says Mr Roberts.

The size of the prize, as well as adverse consequences of getting it wrong, is significant. An aligned agile ambition to the required building blocks and how it is implemented are the unlocking key.

To avoid agile failure and the accompanying damage this can cause to a company, organisations should work with a partner that has the skills and capabilities to ensure change in this area is not only successful, but also meets the expectations of the leadership team.

Proteus is a multi-award-winning consultancy that has built a reputation in creating change self-sufficiency within organisations and successfully delivering significant transformational programmes. Their differentiated integrated change services allow clients to accelerate their internal change capability, reduce their dependency on expensive external resources and create a genuine culture change.

“A major differentiator is that we are not in the business of selling a particular level of agility for our own benefit. Our focus is on helping organisations create a shared understanding of the agility levels sought, understand the required building blocks and show how best to get this delivered,” Mr Roberts concludes.

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