General Guidance

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The adoption of business agility mindsets, structures, and practices are accelerating. Not a day goes by without a press release from a major corporation announcing their transformation. And despite the hype, it’s more than a buzzword. It is a significant, yet nuanced, change in the ways companies operate. In today’s unpredictable economy, the benefits are clear.

If you are just getting started on your personal business agility journey, you're in the right place. We have curated some of the best stories and introductory concepts to provide you with a baseline understanding of business agility, adaptive leadership, and organisation design.

The Business Agility Report[edit | edit source]

Released in August 2018, the first Business Agility Report put forward to state of business agility around the world. 394 respondents from 166 companies from around the world took part in the first-ever Business Agility survey. Rating their maturity and sharing their insights, challenges, and successes.

The survey found that most organisations rate their current business agility fluency relatively low but have enthusiasm and hope for the future. Many respondents report that they are struggling with transforming entrenched culture and processes; most commonly developing new funding models and transforming HR, Finance, and other supporting functions.

Despite these challenges, most survey respondents also report that they are experiencing tangible benefits from their investment in business agility; from improved ways of working, increased employee and customer satisfaction, and improved market performance.

You can download the report here.

Fundamental Principles[edit | edit source]

Until such time as there is a community-driven Business Agility manifesto, the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto[1] apply across all areas of the organisation with one minor modification.

We are uncovering better ways of delivering value by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. [Value creation] over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

The expression of these values and principles is both complex and nuanced. We recommend the following articles and videos to get you started.

  • Evan's Theory of Agile Constraints by Evan Leybourn [~600 words / 3min reading time]. "An organisation can only be as agile as it's least agile division!" And that's not software anymore.
  • Structuring Your Business for Agility by Phil Abernathy [Video / 18min]. Its not enough to have teams do stand-ups, retrospectives, Agile planning, story carding and the host of other Agile practices that are meant to change culture and deliver results. A key success factor is how the organisation is structured. This case story will go through the why, what and how of a restructuring experience to turn around a 10,000 strong operational team of Sales Support people to an Agile way of working and deliver outstanding results of 30% cost reduction and 80% cycle time improvement. This presentation will walk through the why, what and how of the entire approach, sharing the good and gory experiences, the successes and the pitfalls.
  • Founder’s Mentality and Micro-battles: Summary by Jimmy Allen [Video / 18min]. Only about one company in eleven has sustained profitable growth during the past decade—and for those that failed to grow, over 85% of company leaders blame internal factors for this shortfall. The few companies that sustain growth do so by maintaining their ‘Founder’s Mentality ®’ – a set of characteristics that are typically embodied by bold, visionary founders, which powers the growth of insurgent businesses.

Organisation Design[edit | edit source]

Traditional hierarchical organisational structures are designed to optimise the allocation of work. This model struggles in a business agility context where the focus is to delegate business outcomes to empowered teams. Instead, agile organisations aim to build cross-functional teams and reduce handoffs to the point where a single team can entirely contain a customer value stream.

  • The 22000 Persons Start-up by Paul Cobban [Video / 18min]. The session will see Paul Cobban share his insights into the transformational journey DBS has taken to emerge as a more agile organization. A journey that has led to Making Banking Joyful for both – Customers and Employees of the 22000 employee organization. A 360-degree approach that is inspired by some of the best technology companies in the world and redefines the way the bank works today, to replicate a truly start-up environment.
  • Haier Elevation by Doug Kirkpatrick [~1700 words / 8min reading time]. This case depicts a global manufacturing giant grappling with the challenge of unlocking the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of its employees worldwide, and linking them so tightly to its end users that it creates “zero distance” between employee and customer, driving superior levels of responsiveness and customer loyalty.
  • Shipping is NOT Success, Let it Sail by Naresh Jain [~1900 words / 9min reading time]. All organisations, from the largest enterprise to the newest start-up, face the same challenge. How to solve the real problems of their users by bringing a superior product (or service) to market faster than their competitors while reducing effort spent on overhead activities, or worse, building the wrong product. I hope no-one wants to build “stuff” for the sake of being busy. This is especially critical in organisations producing consumer products. My case study describes how one such organisation, building products used by millions of diverse users every day, used a #noprojects and #noestimates approach to meet this challenge. 
  • The Buurtzorg Story by Ard Leferink [Video / 18min]. In 2006, Buurtzorg started a small nursing team in Holland. Within 10 years it became a nationwide leading nursing organization, serving 60.000 clients each day. Today Buurtzorg’s 9,000 employees operate entirely with self-managing practices and this with less than 50 staff people. In his presentation Ard takes you on his Agile journey. The secrets of the success, the challenges to overcome. With tips & tricks, do’s and don’ts. In a second case he will take us on his journey of a company that made the transition from traditional organisation towards teal(ish).

Agile outside IT[edit | edit source]

While much of business agility focuses on organisation design and leadership, agile outside IT is a key enabler. Here are some simple case studies from organisations applying agile in HR, Finance and Marketing.

  • Evolving Budget Management by Joanna L. Vahlsing [~1500 words / 7min reading time]. In this case study, Joanna shares the approach, challenges and benefits of applying beyond budgeting in a large health and wellness company.
  • Do you dare to ask your HR manager to practise Kanban? by Thushara Wijewardena [~1300 words / 6min reading time]. In 2008, in order to overcome specific offshore challenges, and to improve its quality and productivity, Exilesoft undertook an Agile transformation programme within its project office and delivery teams. While this was highly successful, the rapid change from traditional project culture to Agile culture, as well as the speedy growth of the project organisation, supporting functions, such as HR and operations, were unable to meet the demands of the delivery teams. In response, HR department processes became stricter, in order to cope with the situation and continue to deliver results. Yet these attempts often resulted in delays, and a lack of quality in every aspect of their work, from deliverables to services. Given the success of the Agile transformation programme within the delivery teams, senior members of the company believed that using the same Agile concepts within the HR department, would also deliver positive results.
  • A Common Sense Journey into Agile Marketing by Andrea Fryrear [Video / 18min]. When faced with the prospect of participating in an Agile transformation, many marketers react with skepticism and apprehension. The jargon around Agile, combined with its well known history as an approach to creating software, makes it seem foreign and/or irrelevant to their day-to-day work. To overcome these hesitations, it’s crucial that we don’t try to shoehorn marketing into agility, or vice versa. Instead, the two need to co-evolve.

Recommended Reading[edit | edit source]

If you want to go further, we recommend the following books.