“Business Agility” … “Agile” … “Business Transformation” … “Agile Transformation” … what does it all mean for leaders?
These terms are often used as if they mean the same thing, but they do not.
That the terms are in vogue is understandable. Relentless change is putting immense pressures on businesses and organizations of all kinds. Leaders need to alter business to remain in business.
The backdrop … and need
All these descriptions – and more like them – have been used to describe change in today’s world. And no more so than in the business world.
That level and type of change brings with it uncertainty and risk. It reduces our ability to confidently and preemptively determine what we must do to succeed.
In the past, business leaders were accustomed to predicting what actions were needed and to be “right” in their decisions. Leaders proceeded on the assumption they were “right” until proven wrong. Unfortunately, this mindset is increasingly ineffective in today’s world.
To succeed, leaders must now change their approach from “right until wrong” to “wrong until right.”
“Wrong” in this context does not mean poor judgment or action. “Wrong” means assuming we may encounter errors due to high rates of change and not enough knowledge to determine what will be “right.” We no longer stick to some predetermined path, regardless of circumstances. Instead, we still plan, but assume our plan is assumptions rather than facts. We then execute, making incremental corrections and leveraging interim “wrongs” to get to “right.”
“Right until wrong” … “wrong until right” … sound like subtle word play. However, it is the difference needed to win in today’s business world.
Business agility is a business’s ability to easily and elegantly move or change direction.
The ability to turn or change “on a dime” is the underlying capability for business agility.
That means the business has:
- Externally – increased responsiveness to the marketplace, and
- Internally – ability to create positive change faster and at lower cost than without agility. This includes innovation, a type of positive change.
In a stable business, change is unusual. In a business with agility, change is usual.
Stability, while comfortable, is tantamount to complacency in today’s world. It means eventual business death in an environment of change, especially accelerating change. Thus most stable businesses are actually designed for decline and death in today’s world.
Agility – while a hot topic – is not enough for a business to survive and thrive amid relentless change. Agility based on “right until wrong” will achieve little advantage.
In the face of relentless change, we must marry business agility with “wrong until right.”
The “wrong until right” approach is the key ingredient required for business agility to succeed.
The word “transformation” is used quite a lot these days. What are people really talking about?
The definition of “transformation” is a complete or at least significant fundamental change.
Unfortunately, it has become popular to describe almost all change as transformation. Even minor changes are often called transformations to get funding and build resumes.
The dilution of the definition presents a big problem. What passes as “transformation” in most businesses is now mostly incremental, low level adjustment. Under right until wrong and stability thinking, that is all we need. These improvements can be useful, to be sure. But they don’t produce fundamental transformation needed to move from stability to agility.
Using the word “transformation” for non-transformational change can delude us into thinking that real transformation is happening when it is not. The real danger that demands transformation will remain unmet.
Similarly, waste removal alone, i.e., leaning out processes and getting rid of waste (“waste” being unnecessary cost), will not on its own create customer and technology knowledge needed for breakthrough products. “Tweaking” will not achieve true transformation.
To succeed we must hold to the original definition that transformation involves some fundamental change. Here then are the options:
- Tune existing processes and capabilities, just addressing the symptoms ; or
- Commit to changing the fundamentals and enable a true transformation for agility.
Agile and Agile Transformation
Much of the literature around “agile” and “agile transformation” may not help you. The original focus of “agile” was on change in the small – mostly at team level – rather than enterprise-wide. There is quite a bit of guidance for introducing agility at team levels and in small organizations. However, you can’t simply extrapolate this guidance at the top level or across departments. The guidance was not designed to achieve fundamental change at the broad business level. For lasting agile transformation, you need a more comprehensive and big picture approach to the organization.
Most scaling attempts using agile processes fail because issues beyond team level are not addressed. For example, VersionOne’s annual state of agile development surveys consistently indicate the major barriers to further agile adoption and transformation are not technical process adoption. The significant barriers are broader organizational factors like:
- general resistance to change (comfortable with stability), and
- trying to combine agile with non-agile environments/frameworks without considering the mix.
The transformation big picture
Transformation is also more than just process change. Don’t fall into the all too common trap of thinking “if we just change a few processes we will achieve transformation.”
For true transformation at the business level, look for business-wide root causes or roadblocks to agility. Next, reimagine the fundamentals of the business. Think about what might be reassembled or repurposed as well as what new is needed. Then reconfigure and try it out. Finally, continually review results based on actual experience and feedback and make adjustments accordingly.
Transforming for “wrong until right” agility is not just a “once and done.” True agility demands we repeat the cycle over and over, making sure the cycle is “baked into” the business.
Business transformation demands a big picture view of the business. YOU as the business leader are the one who has the comprehensive, big picture view. That view is crucial for a comprehensive transformation approach. Your position provides the unique view across the entire business of transformation need. It also provides you with some, if not all, of the ability to initiate and coordinate those changes.
How can we help you achieve business agility?
To get started or for more information, contact Mike Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +1.949.438.6453