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Stability vs Agility

Stability vs Agility

"Agile" has become fairly synonymous with IT project execution. In fact, few even refer to it as an IT SDLC process while the purists would bang their head in disagreement.

So whats Organisational Agility beyond what it means literally in English. As contrarian as it might sound, its about being focussed on stability while always on the lookout for how the market is evolving. The market includes customers, industry regulators, partner ecosystem, employees and competition.

Here are 3 simple questions to answer for a dip stick assessment on Agility of your organisation:

  1. Do you have the right structure that enables the organisation for quick decision making or does it actually impede the speed at which decisions are taken?
  2. Are there well defined processes that enable the outcomes that should be delivered or are the processes seen as a rigid workflow to deliver outputs.
  3. Do all your departments have a consistent understanding of what outcomes they are responsible for or are they drowned in their internal department level priorities.

For atleast two of the above, if you answered "YES" to the first part of the question, then your organisation demonstrates good Agility and you are on the right track.

Here's an analogy from the world of motor sports. In an F1 racing circuit - about 20+ staff help change 4 tyres in the pit stop area. The pit stop team has a focussed outcome, i.e to ensure the driver wins the race. The tasks at the pit stop are fairly complex - changing the tyres, checking air vents, balancing the car in position and checking the circuit for oncoming cars. Lets not discount the drivers contribution in terms of speed adjustment and accurate stopping at the marked lane. They are trained extensively and are given tools to help them do the job efficiently. More importantly each one of the pit stop team knows their role and their inter dependency on the rest of the team mates on the pit stop lane. They demonstrate extremely high levels of individual accountability complementing each other's role and executing their tasks to perfection - all in a fraction of the time you took to read this paragraph. For those wondering how to build Agile teams outside of IT, the pit stop use case is great example of organisational agility.

  1. Everyone in the team is focused on the outcome (winning the race) rather than the output (changing tyres).
  2. The job at hand has been beautifully broken down into simple, easy to execute tasks.
  3. All team members around the car know exactly what they need to do and are extremely conscious of the fact that the outcome is realised only if they work collaboratively.
  4. The team management has given them enough empowerment to execute their tasks and does not exercise "command and control". The empowerment itself is provided through training, tools and decentralising decision making at the point of pit stop.
  5. The driver knows that the processes are stable and mature which ensures a 2 second tyre change.

Refer following Youtube videos on F1 pit stop:

 

There are several living examples of Organisational Agility, here are two from outside the corporate world.

  • The mega langar kitchen at the Golden Temple, Amritsar.
  • Implementation of PURA (Providing Urban Ameneties in Rural Areas) in Warana Valley, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra.

For a business leader, is there a silver bullet to implementing Organisational Agility - YES, three perhaps.

  1. Hire a personal coach: companies often hire an Agility coach to help facilitate the change process to an Agile team. While that's a good start, many times organisations struggle to find an "internal" beacon once the Coach completes his engagement. A personal management coach with experience in "Organisational Agility" can help you break down your projects into simpler modules for implementation, reduce non-value adding tasks, help cascade your business goals as outcomes expected from your teams, manage your communication plan within the organisation, and most importantly ensure you become the internal beacon for your teams.
  2. Learn enough to Practice: There's enough freeware literature available online. Set aside 10 minutes a day for 2 weeks to read up as much as you can. An experienced personal coach can give you practical tips on how to go about demonstrating your understanding of Organisational Agility to your teams and can also help build a personal library of handy tools - cheatsheets, taxonomy, personal dashboards, etc.
  3. Practice before you preach: As much as Agile teams are about breaking hierarchy, empowerment and defined responsibilities, it all starts from the top. Behaviourally, when your boss practices something, you are encouraged to adopt it. Again, the Senior management need not "mandate" anything as in typical hierarchical, command and control organisations, but mere practising is incentive enough for the teams to start adopting Agile practices.

Recent Bain publication on managing customer episodes and taking Agile beyond software and digital development is a good reference:

http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/experience-is-the-new-product-heres-how-to-manage-it.aspx

Do you have an experience to share on Organisational Agility, please feel free to chime in.