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How agile has evolved and can help you unlock your future potential

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Change and disruption is a normal part of modern life. Twenty years ago, the median age of leading firms was 85 years; today it’s closer to 30 years. And this disruption is only accelerating. Long-established companies have been undercut by fast-moving, tech-enabled powerhouses.

But decline is far from inevitable – some incumbents have shown how retooling their enterprises for adaptability can help them survive – and thrive. Leveraging emerging technologies, whilst renewing their relationship with their people, and preparing for resilience against the most modern threats, organisations are reaping the benefits of an agile mindset.

Agility has evolved over the last 20 years and today it can help organisations tackle their most difficult problems, respond to increasing disruption, and achieve strategic change.

How agile has evolved in the last 20 years

Most famously formalised in 2001, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development came about by a group of software developers in order to release software to market faster.

Since 2001, ‘agile’ has evolved substantially to meet changing demands and needs. No longer used purely for software delivery, agile is now a mindset that articulates how to add value to every part of an enterprise. Looking across all business areas, agility can deliver enhanced funding approaches, marketing, sales, engineering, programme and portfolio management, and the operational approaches that enable these.

Enhancing agility today

Our research on organisational agility surveyed 500 leaders from some of the world’s largest organisations.

We found that the top financial performers are 30% more likely to display agile characteristics. This distinct agile cohort of firms are embracing adaptability to respond to opportunities and challenges faster than their traditional operating models could. Five key dimensions separate them from the pack, and here’s what you can do to enhance organisational agility:

1. Centre on your customer
Total customer centricity acknowledges that product and brand differentiation, and customer experience, are no longer enough to entice customers. Customers see brands and businesses as a means to an end. Teams must demonstrate clearly how they can help achieve customer outcomes.

2. Speed up the time to value
The highest performing projects achieve a shorter time to value by continually speeding up their innovation and launch processes, making frequent rounds of incremental adjustments to products, and mobilising quickly in response to environmental changes.

3. Design for simplicity
The agile firms are flattening hierarchical layers and aligning teams around the customer’s end-to-end journey. This enables them to build, test, adapt, deploy, learn and repeat in a strategic, methodical manner. They are shifting – from optimising micro-level efficiencies in specialist siloes, to optimising macro-level effectiveness of the entire organisation.

4. Build to evolve
There is a clear advantage to those who best anticipate changes and respond more flexibly. Flexible systems and processes, non-linear development cycles and continuous learning culture can all enable project teams to build and maintain the initiative.

5. Liberate our people
The top performing organisations have created a work environment that’s dynamic, encourages collaboration and where employees are empowered at all levels. It’s tempting to focus on new tools and methods – instead, these organisations treat their people like their customers – putting them at the heart of what they do.

Embedding agility for the future

Many leaders are struggling to scale agility and harness it to gain a competitive edge. Agility confronts teams and leaders with totally new opportunities. But too often, compromises are made that jeopardise success; and old ways of leading clash with new ways of working.

Our most recent research shows how to embed agility for sustainable future delivery. It unearths the four necessities for making agility a reality:

1. Build genuine and unanimous top team commitment
Most change calls for executive-level commitment. Agility pushes this to the limit. It calls for leaders to take up new measures, structures and leadership style, casting off their old equivalents. Leaders’ commitment about why they want to change and how to use agility to achieve the outcomes they want must be unanimous, unshakeable and tangible.

2. Create the conditions for success from the outset
‘Start now and ask questions later’ is the mantra of many traditional agile evangelists. But a successful transition starts with careful work before any wider organisational pronouncements. This includes examining your organisation’s culture, lining up supporters and determining how you will metricate and communicate the benefits.

3. Cut out the compromises
Many organisations deliver an ‘agile but’ approach, where constraints and old habits are accommodated rather than addressed. Resist the pressure to water down agreed requirements, and ensure that non-negotiables are reflected from the outset.

4. Accept tomorrow’s leaders will be different from today’s
Lasting success requires leaders right through the organisation who support, own and live the change. They might need fundamentally different skillsets to today. You will need to be prepared to look for talent in places you may not expect, and deal with the inevitable politics and challenges.

Agility can unlock your most urgent challenges

We saw the impact when working with a large NHS Trust to help them deliver an Electronic Health Records (EHR) implementation project, configuring the platform and rolling out crucial services for over 10,000 members of the clinical workforce.

We worked with the team to implement delivery, planning and product management mechanisms, tailored to their needs and capability. The results were superb – within two months:, a backlog of actions dating back years had been catalogued, triaged and planned. For the first time, the team had a tangible measure of team capacity, enabling prioritisation of tasks and increased predictability. Best of all, the team are now inspired to deliver in a way that they hadn’t been before.

Investing in agility is key as organisations prepare for the future whilst seeking to deliver better, now. 

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