By Biase De Gregorio, Partner and Agile Lead of IQbusiness
As with everything else in life, unrealistic expectations often lead to disappointment when they are not fulfilled in the way we had hoped. And despite the many benefits that come with a more agile way of working, the same is true when it comes to implementation of the practices it takes to get to that point. Our annual IQbusiness Agile Report demonstrates just that – the majority of companies adopt an agile philosophy with the primary purpose of increasing their speed-to-market, yet 21% of respondents saw no improvement in delivery speed whatsoever.
However, these same businesses did report heightened flexibility and an improved ability to adapt to changing environments. Ultimately, these very capabilities are the hallmarks of true agility, without which improved-speed-to-market can never truly be realised. The bottom line? Agility is not an end goal to be rushed towards – it’s a philosophy and a new way of working. And though its benefits may take years to be felt throughout a large organisation, the payoff is invariably worth it in the long run, with lots of other successes experienced along the way.
The importance of agility
In a market where rapid change is the name of the game, organisations are beginning to realise they need a different, more adaptive approach to change, while still being able to deliver products and services of high value to their customers. Large-scale, established businesses are being challenged by smaller, more agile and nimble companies who have competitive advantage in the form of improved responsiveness, better product and service delivery, and enhanced customer experience. These startups may not have the resources of their well-established counterparts, but they have the gift of speed on their side – and even the biggest players would do well to sleep with one eye open as the landscape becomes ever-more competitive.
It’s about far more than new technology
Most people view an agile methodology as a software-development function with a strong focus on technology, but it goes much deeper than that. It’s also about people, culture and mindset. Agility changes how people work, and it invariably fails if the process implementation isn’t paired with cultural readjustment as well. It needs to be encouraged across the entire value chain and in every department of the business (HR, procurement,
finance and so on) to be holistically effective, but it can still offer benefits if a more modular approach is taken. Think of it as a gradual, organisation-wide shift to reap big rewards, like happier, more engaged employees building better products and services, resulting in contented customers along the way. In turn, this leads to better financial results and organisational innovativeness.
A company’s pre-existing culture impacts heavily on the adoption of an agility-led mindset. An organisation that has a very traditional, ingrained culture may struggle to come to terms with the concept of agility because it is considered a new, disruptive way of thinking. In the banking sector, for instance, where governance is a chief concern, a change in the way of working may be seen as a threat to well-established norms and can result in a lot of anxiety around, and hostility towards, the process. How do we find the balance to ensure that we maintain the appropriate level of governance along with speed and agility at the same time?
In a similar vein (but on the other end of the spectrum), an innovative tech-driven business that expects immediate, flawless results from the process is also likely to be disappointed, because any kind of organisational change naturally takes time to adopt. We are, after all, talking about a large-scale shift at the foundation-level of the business – affecting its core values and its approach to both its customers and its competitors. Any significant change that’s worth the cost and effort will take time, so striving for constant improvement will always be preferable to aiming for instant perfection. And adopting a lean and agile way of implementing the change, applying the same principles of an iterative and incremental approach to change management, will enable the organisation to achieve its results far better than traditional change implementation strategies, even though some of these practices and approaches may still be relevant depending on context.
A measurement of success
Results differ from company to company, but a true mark of agile success is long-term sustainable adoption. That’s why at IQbusiness we strive to give our clients the tools they need to increase their agility long after we’ve come and gone in our consulting capacity. It’s also why we re-visit organisations six, nine or twelve months later to ascertain whether they have regressed to their old ways, or are still striving to adopt a more agile approach to their inner workings.
Every organisation is unique, and the path to business agility is paved differently for each one – sometimes taking years of dedication and hard work. Organisations making the move to agility should remember two things: This is a journey, and those leading the change may, at times, feel disheartened and challenged. One piece of advice is to remember and celebrate small victories as this will build your change resilience. It is also important to note that companies need to have realistic expectations and understand some of the issues that can impact on the results achieved.
With that being said, agile adoption remains one of the best strategies for businesses to reimagine the processes of change, and stay relevant in an age of digitisation. It may take years, but agility can improve a business’s overall market value, with enhanced service delivery paired with similarly climbing employee and customer happiness. That’s success all round.