The concept of agile was introduced to the worlds of software development and project management in early 2001 with the creation of the Agile Manifesto:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Learning what customers need over negotiating what to do.
- Responding to change versus following a plan.
These simple concepts flew directly in the face of decades of stringent project management methodology taken from the realms of construction and engineering and poorly adapted to information technology. Since that time, the number of organizations seeking to become agile has risen tremendously as the concept grew in both notoriety and value. Spurred on by the incorporation of lean concepts developed at Toyota and the desire to scale agile beyond software development teams, agile has grown to encompass the strategy and operation of an entire business.
As a founder or leader in your small to medium enterprise, understanding business agility is critical to forming new competitive advantages and generating value faster. An agile business can bring in more leads, close more deals, keep customers happy, and create an environment where teams love to work. In this post, we’ll define business agility, discuss a few examples of how businesses use it today, and introduce an idea you can use today as you consider a business agility transformation.
What is Business Agility?
Business agility, sometimes referred to as organizational agility or enterprise agility, is an organization’s ability to quickly adapt it’s strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward opportunities that create and protect value.
Why is Business Agility Important?
In today’s digital age, the business environment we work within shifts rapidly. External changes in politics, economics, laws, environment, technology, and society can change the market a business navigates overnight. Competitive shifts, such as a competitor releasing a new product or a well-capitalized company entering the market, can change the playing field dramatically. Even smaller opportunities, like realizing a new customer need that your business can serve, can have an impact on how your organization will operate going forward.
Business agility transforms your business from a train stuck on its rails to a cruise ship navigating open waters. With business agility, you can move faster than competitors in more directions, quickly test if the direction change was valuable, and then pivot again when needed. Business agility allows you to meet customer needs quickly, immediately run marketing campaigns to take advantage of a new trend, and give sales the best information and environment to close new deals within shorter cycles.
“Most of the largest and fastest-growing firms on the planet—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and Microsoft—are recognizably Agile in much of what they do…their achievement of business agility is an important reason why they have become the most valuable firms in the world.”
The Four “As” of Business Agility
As your business weighs the benefits of an agile transformation, consider how well your organization performs the four “As” of agility: anticipation, adaptation, action, and analysis.
An agile business does not avoid change – an agile business seeks to harness the power of change to be an innovative force of disruption in their industry and within their organization.
Establish an empowered learning culture to become a truly agile business. Silos and traditional hierarchies that inhibit teamwork and flow should be replaced by teams of teams collaboratIng to deliver value continuously. When change occurs, thIs allows the organization to morph as needed to meet the challenge of the opportunity at hand.
Yes, an agile business capitalizes on opportunity. Business agility also means instilling the value of relentless improvement into self-directed teams within the organization. Agile teams move quickly to act on opportunities that improve the business and remove anything that decreases value or inhibits flow.
Agile businesses take the time to collect data and look back for even more opportunities to improve in the future. Agile teams hold regular retrospectives to review recent outcomes. This gives the team an opportunity to inspect outcomes, anticipate change, adapt to capitalize on the findings and to act decisively.
Moving your organization towards business agility is a critical tool in your company’s arsenal of success. Companies that demonstrate business agility quickly respond to changes in the market by producing innovative business solutions that capitalize on these inevitable shifts. The ability to take advantage of these shifts can put you ahead of the competition and deliver new levels of value to your customers.