There can be no doubt that the way of doing business has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. This is due in no small part to technology and the impact that it has had on almost every profession. All industries, not just those in the technology space, have faced disruption on a previously unimaginable level. To remain competitive, their business has had to change as well. This increasingly complex world requires the implementation of modern business agility.
This transformation has been easier for some than for others, largely due to the mind-set and attitudes to change, from leadership.
Comfortability of continuous reinvention
Those who not only desire change but embrace and expect continuous change as part of their culture and way of thinking, have been able to make this transition much easier. There is no doubt, that business leaders who are driving this kind of change culture are often more in tune with the ’pulse’ of their industry. Thus they can identify threats and opportunities to their business, and quickly adapt before the threat becomes a reality.
Another factor influencing change in various industries are consumers. In the industrial age, products were made to a specification that suited the business. There was little or no regard for consumers’ preferences. Ford famously offered Model T’s in any color the customer wanted as long as it was black. In the digital age, any business that proceeds with that mind-set would possibly not last beyond a single financial quarter. In this fashion, customers influence how and what is produced. They also dictate their terms, putting the onus on the businesses to adjust to meet their changing needs and expectations.
It is this ability to change course which is the essence of modern Business Agility.
So how do we achieve agility?
A starting point for those wishing to adopt an agility minded business strategy is to use a systems-thinking approach. With the entire business being the system, you need to anchor yourself to the core values of an organization. This will then allow you to gain strategic alignment. With that in place, leadership can implement the patterns of agility that drive the highest value work in the organization. In turn, getting the most out of the most important asset in the organization, its’ people. Much like knowing where your weaknesses lie before embarking on a program of self-improvement, this looking inwards is just as important as any external feedback an organization will receive.
Businesses need to be responsive, adaptable and be able to change their production outcome in a much smaller timeframe. To do this, we need to integrate new ways of working with high performing, small empowered teams into our organizations. With strategy, culture and alignment being the skeleton of an organization, these high performing teams become the muscle, flexing and gaining strength every day.
Understanding the role of agility
With a strong skeleton and growing muscles, the system, or organization, can then leverage the growing myriad of technologies to exploit opportunities and threats. One could think of technology skills and expertise as the nervous system, providing real time responsiveness, feedback and reactions. Expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, quantum computing, cloud and big data, allow us to envision a different future for our businesses and how we interact with consumers.
Expertise in these areas allow unprecedented access into the thinking of our customers. The idea around producing a minimum viable product (or MVP), has taken root for many organizations. MVP, as a concept, allows for the production of a product (process or software) that meets the most basic of requirements for a customer. In this way the core product can be taken to market a lot faster than those offering all the ‘bells and whistles’. The absence of which however, in no way detracts from the main functionality of the product. This allows for a much faster speed to market, as well as allowing users to have input into whether or not the envisioned additions will actually positively or negatively impact the use of the product or service.
Benefits of implementation
This type of high performing, empowered cross functional team promotes better quality, reduced delivery time and increased value for organizations. The traditional framework that many organizations still operate within creates silos and unnecessary handoffs. This in turn is actually preventing knowledge sharing and gain of efficiencies. If a leader wants to gain the full benefit of a modern Business Agility approach, it does require a lean, servant leader mind-set; and the ability to drive decisions lower in the organization, much closer to the customer.
While achieving Business Agility is a journey, the leaders and the teams will start to see immediate benefits. Many times a facilitated strategic alignment workshop can spark this shift and set a clear path for this journey. The central tenet of Agility is the willingness to experiment, gain feedback, learn and pivot. No two businesses – just like no two people – are alike. Therefore, setting up the organization, comparing its’ market and understanding the customers’ needs, has to be approached individually for every business.