The “new hotness” in the agile world today is this phrase “Business Agility”. What does that really mean? I asked my good friend and co-author Art Zigman that question. What follows is our conversation shared transparently so whatever we discover together doesn’t end with just us.
Delivering Business Value? Ability to rapidly respond to changes in the marketplace? This is where a lot of folks say it is. But if we work our way through it, is that all that is? Let’s think about that for a second. Most of what a business does is not focused on responsiveness.
Mom & Pop
“Emergent Businesses” -
Let’s consider “Emergent Businesses”. These are purely virtual-existence companies. They emerged through a portal on the web, an app in a mobile products provider marketplace.
Mom and Pop and Legacy businesses are the ones that more often need some form of Business Agility such as we'll discuss here. The smaller Mom and Pop organizations because their cash flow and plans are generally constrained so that the horizon they can extend themselves out to are relatively short-term. They need business agility because the risks involved are simply beyond their ability to foresee much of what could derail their plans. Legacy businesses have likely survived by not only innovating but also shoring up different aspects of their business model. What happens in these cases is that this shoring up usually leads to two things: A bunch of hardened fortifications around processes, and the abandonment of the processes to the elements (otherwise known as "We've always done that way, Art."). Both of which are likely to be the subjects of a future article.
So let’s go back and look at the term, Business Agility again. What is it that a business fundamentally needs to be able to “be agile”.
It needs to be able to SEE.
What sorts of things might a business need to be able to see? Good question.
How our current decisions really amount to something of value, not just to our customers, but to our survivability, and sustainability. In other words, how FIT are we for the purpose for which we operate?
This means we have to consider that the way we qualify and quantify how we operate itself, needs to be reconsidered. A fundamental key to Business Agility: Possessing the ability to objectively reconsider ourselves and our decision-making on an on-going basis. Realizing that, sadly, isn’t as easy as one might think. It takes being honest with ourselves and recognizing the fallibility of our decisions. That’s not to say we should be pessimistic (and there are some of us out there who are, aren’t there?), but to not carry ourselves like we can slip into a broom closet and come out dressed like someone from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Besides, as Art knows, Marcelo IS Iron Man.
So, let’s take an example. You’re an Agile Coach. Your name is Arthur the Magnificent, and you’ve been brought into a client’s company because someone with a ‘C’ in their title heard that a competitor was CRUSHING it, using this stuff that was BETTER than Agile, Business Agility.
What do you do? How does help this person who’s probably very well-compensated, has likely invested a long time in their professional career to achieve their position, that it’s not as easy as flicking a switch.
Where to begin? A good place is at the beginning. One approach is to coach the person. Get to know this person, understand them where they are. Helping them recognize (see) and discern (understand) the circumstances that surround them and assess for themselves where those things that they deem obstacles are. Another approach is to bring this person and their team (be they direct reports or peers), and carry out an agile workshop. That’s a fancy phrase for, “Let's SEE together so we can better understand our circumstances as a group”. This approach aims to help them emerge from being a group towards becoming a team.
What often happens is a lot of soul searching, denial (see “Dunning-Kruger effect”), and some eventual reconciliation with the reality they see, and some empathy of others around as the commonalities that emerge become apparent (and quite often, unavoidable).
Another: Art Zigman and Marcelo Lopez, Production
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