How to Create an Agile Organisation – Part 1: Agile vs Agility

Technology and Digital

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October 27, 2017

This is the first blog in a three-part series, which will explore the concept of an agile organisation. In this series we will consider what it means to be an agile organisation, the barriers to agility and cultural enablers.

Nowadays, ‘change is the new normal’, meaning organisational agility is imperative to operate. But to create this ability in your organisation does everyone need to be following a disciplined “Agile” or Scrum methodology?

Not at all. Firstly, let’s clarify what we mean:

Agile: is a method of project management, used especially for software development. It promotes the division of work into short phases of work, with regular delivery and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans based upon observed outcomes.

Compared to…

Agility: ability to move quickly and easily, responding to change effectively.

Agile as a technique has thrived in technology functions, with rates of return on Agile software projects up to 60% higher than those using more traditional approaches.

We can improve organisational agility, and realise similar benefits across the whole of the organisation, by taking advantage of these techniques. Agility is moving from strategic differentiator to new must-have, and companies that do not respond to this change will be overtaken or will not survive…most recently think Monarch (UK based airline).

So where do you start?

Here are the three key characteristics of agile organisations, and how you can start building them.

  • Embrace the power of teams.
    • Most large, hierarchical companies are set up around specialised functions e.g. Finance, Technology, Marketing, etc.  This creates inefficiencies due to handoffs, rework and lack of accountability for the ultimate outcome. To embrace the power of teams, organisations should look to break these silos, creating cross-functional, collaborative teams who are aligned to products or customer groups and who own a given process/product end-to-end. Teams should be accountable for everything from the strategy to the on-going maintenance and eventual retirement.
    • Try starting with: a pilot team. A big bang approach to creating these teams is challenging, so a step forward would be to set up a pilot cross-functional team to test the concept and display the benefits to the rest of the organisation.
  • Rapid response.
    • Customer expectations are constantly changing and well-known brands can’t assume that their name will protect them against market disrupters. Agile organisations use rapid decision making and real-time customer feedback to respond quickly. Making data driven decisions to take a new direction or try something can put you ahead at an organisation, function or team level.
    • Try starting with: Agile ceremonies. The agile methodology has many techniques that enable rapid changes in direction. Use of Agile ceremonies such as daily stand-ups, allow teams to quickly change priorities based on the latest data and feedback. Any team can use Agile ceremonies, start by implementing the basics; daily stand-ups, sprint reviews and retrospectives.
  • Customer value focused.
    • An agile organisation has a clear focus on the value they are delivering to the customer; measuring customer response, constantly gathering data and using this to inform their key decisions. Embracing a test and learn approach (for example launching a MVP (minimum viable product)), organisations can benefit from exploring customer trends and preferences, and being smarter about responding to this information.
    • Trying starting with: A/B testing. A starting point could be implementing an A/B testing approach for achieving one strategic objective, and seeing if that approach provides benefits to the organisation.

The three characteristics above only touch the surface of what it means to be an agile organisation. In our next post we will explore the barriers to agility.

Click here to read part two in the How to Create an Agile Organisation series. Click here to read part three. 


Catherine HarrisonThis piece is co-authored by Catherine Harrisson, who leads the Professionalising Organizations practice at North Highland UK. She is passionate about creating and embedding effective Organization Designs, Operating Frameworks, competencies and career paths, that work in today’s digital world. Catherine supports clients in achieving meaningful agile transformations driven by strategy and taking a people-centered approach. She has significant experience across industries, extensively within retail and financial services.

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