What makes an agile business? The key steps to pulling off an agile transformation

  • Nerys Mutlow
  • Trends and Research
  • Solutions
  • Cybersecurity and Risk
  • 2021
16 February 2021

What makes an agile business? The key steps to pulling off an agile transformation

It’s widely accepted throughout the business world that we need to do things differently and disrupt the way we work in order to achieve better, faster and longer-lasting benefits for customers, society and ourselves.

This was clear before the start of the COVID-19 crisis and in recent months businesses have been encouraged, perhaps even forced, into turning thoughts into action. What were once ‘best intentions’ to streamline business processes and become more efficient, suddenly became top priorities in order for businesses to survive and perform.

Measuring agility

Central to this new hunger for process and efficiency is the concept of agility. It’s not a new phenomenon but being an agile business has often been something people talked about and admired trailblazers like Spotify rather than actively tried to pursue themselves.

A new IDC White Paper, sponsored by ServiceNow,* in which European companies were measured for signs of agility based on their capabilities, processes and priorities, reveals the key traits of an agile organisation and also at what stage businesses are at in the quest for agility.

The study showed that agile businesses:

·       Focus more on leadership and structural agility

·       Recover quickly and take full advantage of a crisis 

·       Prioritise time to market over "perfection" for new solutions

·       Are more advanced in their digital journey, using digital processes in a broad range of use cases

·       Perform better across different business metrics

According to the IDC White Paper*, almost half (45%) of businesses in Europe are categorised as ‘in motion’, in the middle of their journeys to organisational agility, while 34% sit in the lower tiers of ‘static’ or ‘disconnected’.

So, there is clearly work to be done. But how aware are businesses of this need, and do they go about advancing through their agility journey?

Addressing the myths about agile

Before we can look in detail at how to pull off an agile transformation, it’s important to consider (and debunk) some of the common myths that exist about agility.

One key misconception is that agile practices are not controlled, due to their speedy and fluid nature. However, it is entirely possible to industrialise agile behaviours and add that layer of control and consistency.

In fact, the more control companies can implement, the more responsive, better organised and quick to recover they will be – all key traits of an agile business. Data plays an instrumental role too to provide businesses with the operational dashboards they need to drive better and faster decision making against the outcomes they need.

Another myth is that you cannot drive agile transformations in large and complex enterprise organisations. The very essence of agile is to ‘eat the elephant’ bite by bite, delivering incremental value which leads to more agile behaviours over time. One way of implementing this in an organisation is by introducing an agility road map, delivering incremental value which leads to more agile behaviours over time. In this way, the process is carefully managed, and successes can be communicated and celebrated, leading to wider buy-in across the company.

Pulling off an agile transformation

So, having identified and addressed the myths around being an agile business, how can you go about achieving this status? And what role does technology play?

Organisations that want to get a head start must focus on transforming their technology stack, reducing complexity and digitising workflows for enterprise operations. This cuts across three main types of process: Internal IT support; customer-facing; and employee-facing. By connecting these processes together to create the connected enterprise organisations organisations are able to create the digital blueprint or digital twin of their organisation which gives them the transparency and visibility needed at the enterprise level to respond and adapt to changes rapidly.

However, having the technology and the framework isn’t enough. All the tools can be in place, but if you don’t also have the culture, understanding and communication fully implemented, nothing will stay consistent or connected.

People play a huge part in any agile transformation. It sounds obvious, but we have to focus on the ‘human’ element rather than just looking at roles or headcounts. We have to coach people to be leaders, not managers.

Managers check and monitor things. Leaders inspire, coach and support. Having these inspirational role models visible and empowered from the top to the bottom of an organisation is vital when attempting to implement any big transformational measures.

Organise around a common goal

Having worked with businesses for many years on how to become more agile, I’ve learned one very clear lesson: re-organising how you work and operate is much more effective than re-structuring it or adding layers. That may seem like the same thing, but it isn’t.

If you think about how you deliver your business strategy there are many different functions that are involved, : Marketing, PR, Sales, Business Development, R&D and Legal, to name a few. They all need to be involved in the process, all part of the same value stream and therefore need to refrain from working to their own insular KPIs based on drivers related to their own goals.

Agile businesses will organise all departments and teams around common goals with common KPI’s  to drive the business model in delivering the products or services to their customers.  Each department brings their own expertise and specialist skills to delivering these goals but the organisation is focused and united on ultimately delivering the agreed outcomes.  Some companies have started thinking in this way, but many are still working with siloed approaches which can lead to incompatible or even competing priorities within organisations. Or we see complex cross departmental processes that require multiple handoffs, leading to delays and long and complex feedback loops and so there is vast potential for businesses to improve in this regard.

The IDC research is encouraging in many ways – although European businesses may still be at the beginning of their agility journeys, it’s hugely positive that they are at least on that journey at all.

Accepting there is a need for change is a great first step and, with the right support, culture and tools, there is only one way for businesses to go on that path towards a more agile future.

Assessing your level of organisational agility

While most organisations consider agility to be of strategic importance to  their future success,  IDC benchmarking data  shows that 79% of organizations are still at the  early stages in their agility journey. So where does your organization sit? And critically, how does this compare to other organizations in your sector?

(*Source: IDC White Paper sponsored by ServiceNow, IDC #EUR146988320, “Agility: The strategic imperative to survive and thrive in volatiles times”, November 2020)

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