Five Transformational Steps Toward Increased Organizational Agility

As agile project management has become more prevalent in IT organizations, there has been an increasing trend toward overall organizational agility or business agility, as it is sometimes called.  This involves a full transformation of core business processes, capabilities, and guiding principles. Anyone that has been involved with an agile transformation will tell you that it takes time to implement and requires a multifaceted approach to achieving core outcomes.  Moving your business toward overall organizational agility will require the same.

That said, here are five transformational steps to help you on your journey toward greater organizational agility.

Establish a “North Star”

Organizational Agility

People matter. Purpose matters. Put them together and you have a recipe for success.  True transformation comes from a compelling reason for change.  In order to begin an agility transformation, you will need committed individuals to carry it out.  Giving them a clear vision and understanding of why change is necessary is a prerequisite to any other endeavors you may undertake.  A common goal leads to a common mindset, which in turn leads to common values and principles.  These values and principles can then be used as a litmus for decision making and a north star for defining value.

Reflection question: What is the single most important reason you have for beginning an agile transformation?

Clarify & Align Capabilities

Once you have set your goal and established commitment from your employees, you must clear the way for collaboration.  Start by identifying your core value streams, which are the steps and people involved in achieving end-business goals.  This will help you identify the pools of resources you will want to align so that they can begin working together on plans to achieve the objectives.  It is important to mention that you do not have to formally re-organize to achieve this.  Virtual teams composed of cross-functional individuals can be aligned into a value stream without having to update your HR system.

Reflection Question:  What are the core value-enabling processes and departments in your organization?  

Establish 21st Century Leadership

20th century management stemmed from the Industrial Revolution and the factory line.  It taught us that workers needed to be managed, work should be standardized, and the best employees “climbed the ladder” proving their superiority.  21st century Leadership acknowledges that everyone has areas of expertise and areas of weakness.  Many individuals can act as leaders in their roles and leadership should not be defined by the number of direct reports one has.  The re-establishment of roles can give focus, autonomy, and specific domain authority to individuals while also creating checks and balances that establish governance from within and ensure stronger collaboration. Roles such as Product Owner, Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Agile Manager, Architect, and Work Stream Lead work interdependently to deliver value.

Reflection Question: Who are the most effective leaders in your organization and what do they do differently?

Minimum Viable… Everything

Too much planning and perfecting of organizational transformation can prevent actual change from taking place.  The concept of Minimum Viable Product used by agile teams emphasizes the importance of early learning when developing a new product.  This same wisdom applies to transformation work.  Choose a value-stream that is important but not too complex.  Next, create small teams and implement a collaboration framework, usually with the help of an Agile Coach or Organizational Development Consultant.  Experiment with what works and use data to improve collaboration of the teams and throughput of value within the value stream.

Reflection Question:  Which value-streams in your organization are relatively small but also valuable and complex?

Prioritize Continuous Learning & Improvement

For organizational agility to thrive, learning must matter more than deliverables. Shifting focus to outcomes, instead of outputs, enables teams to experiment safely while still moving towards clear business objectives.  Additionally, just as technical teams are mindful of “technical debt”, organizations must be continually mindful of how they amass “organizational debt”.  Every process added, every document required, and every additional point of communication adds complexity.  There must be vigilance in promoting and sustaining a shared mindset that includes agility, continual improvement, and innovation.  Lastly, remember that growth and transformation are ongoing. You’re never done.

Reflection Question:  What “organizational debt” are you aware of that has not been dealt with for far too long?

Bonus Tip: Go “all-in” on training

It’s nice to think smart, motivated people will simply figure things out… but old habits die hard.  It is rare that lasting transformation comes without expert guidance.  The importance of proper training and agility coaching cannot be understated.  Just as there are specialists in any field, there are specialists in the fields of organizational development, process improvement, and agile transformation. Reach out for consultation and be honest about your own level of knowledge.  Together, we learn.

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Jeremiah Hopkins
Jeremiah Hopkins