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Pursuing Agility

Brief

What is Agility?

              Agility is the ability to move quickly in the face of internal and external variables. It is often driven by a mindset coupled with a framework to support the ability to consistently change as needed to drive improved results. An agility driven organization, group or individual is often able to rapidly respond to challenges without losing its focus in a way that allows it to have a competitive advantage to their peers.

              Many organizations and teams have started to adopt Agile approaches such as Scrum, Kanban, XP, DSDM, SAFe, LeSS, Nexus and others to help support a shift towards agility with varying degrees of success. Now, what is agility and how it differs from Agile? Agility can benefit from Agile frameworks, but it is not dependent on it to succeed. Agile can often emphasize certain process and tools to an extent where it can become the cause of stagnation.

Why is Agility important?

              Individual Agility  instills continuous self-improvement, task ownership, value creation, adaptability and a collaborative mindset. These characteristics can often set an individual apart by becoming an influencer without authority or a great manager. This in turn allows a person to be more proactive and a better version of themselves. Such behavior can also be caught on by peers and stakeholders and ultimately drive a positive cultural shift in the organization.

             Team Agility helps to create a structured approach to ensure discipline and consistent results in the face of diversity and evolving demands by stakeholders. For example, an agility driven team is more likely to have positioned themselves to have the necessary set of skills and structure to accomplish their objectives or to quickly understand their weaknesses and work to limit the risks associated with it. If internal or external factors derail a project, the team is better positioned to pivot their efforts to ensure minimal disruptions to daily operations and proactively build solution to their challenges.

              Organizational Agility creates the environment in which an entity’s processes and strategies continue to evolve to swiftly adapt to internal and external pressures. This allows it to constantly tackle challenges and create new opportunities. The outcome is an organization that adapts and evolves quickly in rapidly changing and often uncertain environment.

Steps to Initiate/ Enhance Agility

              Regardless of whether it is an individual, team, or organization, improving agility can often start with a few basic steps:

  1. Communicate: What, how and why certain things need to change, stay the same and/or be acted upon to ensure that desirable results are achieved.
  2. Set the Strategy: Lay down the ground rules for the new approach you would like to test with your team and ask their opinion to such approach.
  3. Set Deadlines: Create action items or tasks that need to be completed within a certain timeline.
  4. Set-up Sprints: Create time-boxed periods to complete a set of action items/tasks.
  5. Status Check: Have daily/weekly status checks to confirm that things are on track, whether there are unexpected challenges that have arisen, whether there is a need to pivot, etc.
  6. Review Outcomes: At the end of each sprint, set-up some time to review the outcomes of the sprint and show the results to relevant stakeholders.

              It is important to remember that not everything needs to follow the basic steps to the letter and that different environments may require tweaks. Understanding context and prior experience can help determine how much (or little) needs to be done to accomplish the same results. For example, writing an e-mail to a client may not necessarily need to be written down on paper and micro-managed for some, but others may need such reminders in their calendars.

Structuring Agility

              For an idea to turn into behavior, it needs to be constantly practiced. A structure can help ensure that agility becomes more than simply a buzz word and more of a motto. It is often easier to divide agility into five segments: Individual Agility, Team Agility, Technical Agility, Process Agility and Enterprise Agility. Although they are often intertwined, understanding it on its own can help create everlasting positive change to the individual, group or organization.

              Individual Agility is comprised of values such as clear communication, resilience, problem-solving, teamwork and others that facilitate and support an agility driven person. The agility mindset provides an opportunity for the individual to have better locus of control regardless of the environment they are in. It defines the person’s work ethic and, therefore, ultimately their production capacity and quality or work.

              Team Agility is highly impacted by individual agility as teams that want to ensure agility need their members to live by such standards and apply them on a daily basis. High performing teams are able to pivot their efforts at relative ease based on its structure and way of operation.

              Technical Agility consists of the tools, techniques, and methods used to support individual and team agility. Technical agility can be seen by some as the responsibility of one individual in a team. However, it is often the responsibility of all members of the team as communication, mindset, and team culture are some of the most important traits of any agility driven team.

              Process Agility aims to optimize outcomes by understanding, structuring and pivoting processes as needed. It creates or enhances processes that are considerate of team, capability, and budgetary constraints. Teams and individuals are often required to have a firm knowledge of the processes in place to ensure reliable and effective results.

              Enterprise Agility focuses on the creation of a culture within an organization which instills rapid adaptability and effectiveness from teams and individuals. It allows for faster pivoting, structured transformations and overall enhanced competitive advantage.

Challenges to Implementing Agility

  • Resistance to Change – Most humans are a creature of habit, which means that when things change, the brain may be opposed to accepting such change. Agility is often connected to the ability to quickly change and that sometimes goes directly opposite to some basic facet of being human. Clear communication of goals and providing a medium to vent out frustrations (repercussion free) can decrease resistance to change.
  • Misaligned Expectations – Sometimes, when a person explains how something works, it looks easy and intuitive, but when it comes to emulating it, the expectations may misalign. In agility, some changes may be quickly felt while others may go through challenging ups and downs. Sometimes getting the right support system can help navigate through these challenges and understand what may or may not be working and what simply requires more time to get adjusted to.
  • Disruption – Throughout an agility transformation, major disruptions can have a direct impact on medium to long-term success. For example, an individual may have taken steps to use an agility driven framework, but at some point the practice is stopped. As a result, a portion of the gains up until now initially acquired by such practice can be nullified. On a team level, external influences such as a managing director with no interest in agility may pressure the team to do or act in ways that goes against their agility framework, leading to unnecessary disruption and set-backs. In such cases, it is important to hold each other accountable for upholding agility like values.
  • Lack of Buy-in – This section is related to resistance to change; however, it is often related to executive support which can accelerate quick and effective adoption. Without managerial buy-in, some individuals may decide to scrap an agility effort, putting a downward and negative pressure on technical, team and individual agility.
  • Limited or no prior experience in agility – Without the right tools, experience and support, it would have been nigh impossible for navigators such as Christopher Columbus to reach the Americas. Understanding the knowns and unknowns of a person, team, and organization can help formulate a plan to ensure that the right resources are available to navigate an agility transformation.
  • Incompatible Philosophy – When a philosophy that goes directly opposite to agility is followed, it can further exacerbate the challenges of an agility transformation, helping to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Miscommunication – Failure to communicate what, how, why, and when can impact the way that an agility transformation is perceived. For example, a manager reaching out to a team and telling them that they are now going to be ‘agility’ driven followed by a lengthy text is likely to not achieve the desired results. In other cases, not having collaboration, respect or task ownership can lead to further miscommunications that diminishes the value of agility.

Conclusion

              Agility is a mindset often backed by framework(s) to help individuals, groups and organizations to be able to move quickly, allowing for a strong competitive advantage and value optimization. Understanding some of the basic steps to reach agility can help jumpstart the transformation. Structuring agility into Individual Agility, Team Agility, Technical Agility, Process Agility and Enterprise Agility can help facilitate the transformation. There are many challenges in the road to agility, however, the benefits that can come from it can far offset the difficulties as long as the right tools, resources and experience are available to tackle it.

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