I’m Sorry, Enterprise Agility Is Not the Same as Agile

In recent years, many companies have used Agile values and principles to evolve their mindsets and ways of working. This has allowed organizations to deliver software products more quickly and with greater business value. This way of thinking initially “solved” a crucial problem: establishing a sustainable ecosystem that improves how digital products are built and enhances the relationship between businesspeople, customers and software developers.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” —Agile Manifesto

You may have noticed that digital and physical products are supporting each other and evolving as a whole. The barrier between virtual and physical innovations is practically nonexistent.

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Advances in microprocessors, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, big data, and short work cycles are impacting all industries.

We have new materials, new chemicals, new services and new software tools that lead to new possibilities. Markets are progressing in unpredictable directions and at exponential rates never seen before.

It is no longer possible to think that your customers will always be with you because you know their preferences or because you are the only option in the market. Innovation and customization are now indispensable.

I used to see company departments interacting in specific stages or intermittently to innovate, but now it is necessary for everyone to collaborate constantly to react more quickly to market disruptions and to deliver better products.

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The value stream is generally represented as the individuals, resources and processes for building a product or service, from conception until customers hold products in their hands.

The value stream (employees, processes and how value is created) allows us to understand how products are built. In practice, however, things are a little more complex.

Strategic partners, outsourced people and contractors are also part of the value stream, and they help to create the product. The obvious disadvantage of this necessary extreme collaboration is that the complexity of building almost anything also increases exponentially.

One of the biggest challenges for a change consultant is to evolve the entire organization without increasing complexity and without just improving the processes of those who produce software. Each individual, resource or process must be made more agile.

A high level of enterprise agility makes it possible to:

  1. Anticipate and respond to exponential market changes, even when there is a high degree of uncertainty.
  2. Recognize opportunities more quickly and effectively, and have solutions that minimally affect the health of the organization.
  3. Constantly look for ways of working that adjust better to new situations.
  4. Help periodically evolve the ways of thinking.
  5. Recover from failure without implying an impact on the people of the company.
  6. Focus on turning limited resources into exponentials.

 

To increase enterprise agility, you need to (among other things):

  1. Alter organizational structures to have a better ecosystem (for example, decoupling the growth of employees from the hierarchical structures of the company).
  2. Change the technologies used to support innovation and emerging opportunities.
  3. Help employees acquire new skills for dealing with constant change.
  4. Modify the way that limited resources are managed.

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As a change consultant, this requires you to help alter processes, evolve culture, change governance, teach new ways to solve problems, discover new ways of leadership, modify how people from different areas connect, evaluate how individuals perform in unexpected situations, and change how limited resources and skills are managed.

One of the most important factors of enterprise agility is that individuals can feel comfortable with constant change. If they cannot increase their mental flexibility when facing new situations, then it will be difficult to have a successful strategy that increases the flexibility of the entire organization.

When people are always exposed to the same procedures and cannot continuously evolve their processes, they tend to decrease their creativity and mental flexibility for solving problems.

The processes used by the company influence how its members reason. And this is an inhibitor of enterprise agility.

A good level of enterprise agility depends almost entirely on its employees’ ability to assess circumstances, respond, and adapt to those new situations with minimal emotional impact.

Biologically, our brains are reluctant to face big changes or see problems from multiple points of view. Techniques derived from the neuroscience of change are needed, as well as knowing organizational and social patterns that increase enterprise agility (You can find neuroscience of change techniques that help increase enterprise agility during a business transformation in my latest book, Leading Exponential Change.)

In short, the best approach requires more than simply helping the company to implement the Scrum framework or use the Agile mindset.

Ideally, your goal should be to provide people with tools that allow them to manage continuous change in a positive way. Adapting to a new scenario involves a great expenditure of brain energy. Neurons must learn to connect differently (neuroplasticity).

In general, the greater an individual’s neuroplasticity, the more comfortable he or she will feel with constant change. The lower the neuroplasticity, the more resistance and conflict there will be in the company.

People must feel comfortable about learning from new scenarios and adapting to new expectations and opportunities. They must also be able to employ greater emotional intelligence in everyday situations.

This will help workers better manage the impact of unexpected events. In this way, adverse events will be minimized and positive events magnified. Constant learning will contribute to the creation of an organization with healthier habits and better products.

It is imperative that you keep in mind the shift in focus between Agile and enterprise agility if you want to change the entire organization.

Agile Enterprise Agility
Focuses on making IT teams and processes more flexible and adaptable to change Focuses on the design of the organization to make the whole company more flexible
Uses Scrum, Kanban, etc. Creates new ways of working throughout the organization
Focuses on projects, products (fixed cost, variable cost, etc.) Changes how business value is created by altering value streams
Introduces a way of thinking Challenges every organizational belief
Focuses on changing how work is done (sequence, batches, etc.); local governance changes Conducts constant experiments to help people achieve healthier and more responsive behaviors; enterprise governance changes
Establishes the foundations for forming
excellent software products and teams
Establishes the foundations for versatile, responsive and resilient organizations

Thanks for listening,
Erich

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