I think a lot of us dealing with Agile software development frameworks and practices on a regular basis have a good understanding of what it means to be “Agile” at that level. On the other end of the spectrum, there is “Business Agility” and that term is more amorphous and less understood. Below is my summary of what I believe the goal of Business Agility is as well as characteristics of organizations embodying Business Agility. Some of the definitions “out there” tend to be more lengthy, so I’m trying to keep it very succinct.
Business Agility aims to enable an organization to …
- Respond quickly to emerging market needs and opportunities
- Make critical decisions quickly
- Reduce risk by testing hypotheses quickly, succeeding or failing fast
- Innovate aggressively and often
- Learn and evolve quickly based on short, frequent feedback loops
In my research, the following characteristics appear to occur most commonly in the context of Business Agility:
- Focus on the customer
- Self organization within small, cross-functional teams (development teams and beyond)
- Decentralization of decision making
- Adaptive and flexible
- Experimentation and iteration on ideas (e.g. Lean StartUp approach)
- Small batches and short planning horizons
- Frequent delivery
- Reduction of complexities and dependencies in favor of smaller, de-coupled autonomous units and architecture
- Comfortable with risk, uncertainty and not having full, centralized organizational control
- Shared purpose, vision, and/or values over detailed “processes”
- View of the organization as “complex adaptive system”
A number of these characteristics are rooted not in specific practices and techniques, but more in the overall company culture.
The notion of innovation I didn’t find mentioned all that often, but I took the liberty to add it because I think it’s important. Being adaptive and responding quickly to change are great, but they’re purely reactive and “outside in”. The concept of innovation is a proactive, “inside-out” effort, which in the end may be even more valuable in moving an organization and its products forward.
P.S.: After writing this post, a great article on the topic of Organizational Agility was published here.