The future of agile

Large organisations face a dual-pronged existential threat, from both tech-centric new market entrants and existing competitors that are moving from tech enabled to tech centric.

A simple example is in the automotive sector; if one car has updatable software and another doesn’t, the one with updatable software will be modified in line with users’ needs throughout its life. This means customers gain from future innovations through updating software rather than having to replace the whole vehicle.

If incumbent operators don’t recognise that they need to produce a car that works this way, competitors and new entrants will. Just take a look at Tesla’s impact on the market – it’s now eclipsed GM and Ford to become the most valuable US carmaker.

That’s a very specific case, but there are plenty of historic examples of where businesses have failed to see emerging trends or uses of technology, such as Kodak in the photography space, Woolworths on the high street and Blockbuster in the entertainment market. In the current environment, any transformation will almost certainly be built around digital, but the dangers posed to organisations are the same as those facing these familiar but now-departed or seriously damaged names.

Incumbent organisations need to transform and central to this is the need to adopt an agile mentality across their whole organisation. This will allow them to harness their current advantages – their reputations, size, finances and staff – while moving from single ways of working to a way that is relevant to each bit of work they do. It means adopting a Kaizen mindset, with each individual taking ownership and responsibility for his or her work, and being empowered to develop and improve their part of the organisation, so the organisation itself improves in a series of marginal gains.

Business leaders, in both the public and private sectors, need to understand that they’re about to undergo a transformational change to help them remain competitive

At its core, being agile is a mindset. It’s almost a will to survive in a changing environment that is enabled by different working practices. These could include the use of techniques such as scrum, scaled agile framework or disciplined agile delivery, but these are not solutions on their own. These specific measures tend to be created for the delivery part of the organisation, generally IT or product functions.

But it’s important the whole organisation is involved, including functions such as human resources, finance, procurement and marketing. Otherwise the risk is they default to what they have always known, which has served them well in protecting them against change in the past, but will no longer do so. That’s why a mindset change is vital.

Business leaders, in both the public and private sectors, need to understand that they’re about to undergo a transformational change to help them remain competitive, and ultimately stay in business for the next 15 or 20 years. Enlightened organisations already understand that a holistic transformation is required and that close to 100 per cent of the organisation will need to be on board, because the competitors that are coming in are built around this mentality. Those that attempt to undertake a light-touch or narrow, delivery-oriented version of agile implementation will fail, and that will lead to the failure of brands and businesses.

The starting point for any agile initiative is to change the mindset of senior leaders, and then to make contact with every member of the organisation and explain to them the urgency of the situation, and how they will be the drivers of change. Leaders must make it clear that if there are inefficiencies they will be exploited by new entrants and competitors, and that if somebody spots a degree of inefficiency or something that could be done better then they need to flag it up and help to resolve it. After the mindset has changed, it’s a case of looking at processes and new ways of working, and only then how software and other tools can help enable that.

Organisations which are serious about adopting an agile mindset, which will help them overcome the challenges they face from new entrants and more established competitors, can now take advantage of help from government-backed business Axelos. The joint venture between the government and Capita owns the intellectual property around best-practice ways of working in service management, projects and programme management, agile management and cybersecurity, and has now developed a new initiative targeting those looking to become agile businesses and safeguard their future.

The first part currently being developed is a two-day training course which starts with mindset and transformational change, outlining why businesses need to adapt. Change is achieved with the buy-in of all levels of management and this course is recommended for everyone in the organisation, from C-suite to delivery teams. Everyone should feel they are involved in defining the future of their organisation.

Essentially it’s aimed at making people aware that the world around them is changing and the people working for the organisation are the only ones who can enact change. Courses will be delivered globally through a network of partner companies and consultancies, and there are also plans to offer online modules, which people can complete at their own pace.

The risk for organisations that fail to act now is that by the time they feel the pain and realise they have to do something, it will probably be too late. Now is the time to start the journey of empowering teams and establishing the right way to work, whether that’s in a purely agile way or in a more traditional way, with some agile project management also featured.

What is important, though, is that organisations enable ways of working that are fit for the work they do, which break down bureaucracy and ensure everyone in those businesses understands the processes that kept them safe for decades may well no longer be fit for purpose. Only by embracing change, while drawing on existing advantages, such as money, great people, reputation and brand, can organisations hope to continue to thrive in such a competitive environment.

To find out more about how Axelos can help your business please visit