The Big Deal About Agility

Agility as a management concept was thrust into our consciousness during the early days of COVID-19. Evidently, this seemed to have come about on account of the prevailing crisis and the need for people and businesses to navigate and survive the increasingly difficult terrain.

The truth however, is that Agility has been a subject of relevance even before COVID-19. The technological and digital disruptions especially with the Artificial Intelligence conundrum were major critical factors driving Agility across business domains. Of course there are other factors such as regulatory pressures, shifting consumer behavior and the challenge of incumbents by disruptors – all vehemently contributing to the Agility quest.

Personally, I have severally lent my voice to the Agility discuss across several platforms, many of which happened in the year 2019. My last Pre-COVID-19 lockdown speaking engagement being with the Nigerian IT Professionals in Canada [NIPCA] held in March 2020 – just prior to the global lockdown. So yes, Agility has been around for a bit but what really is the fuss about Agility, and why has it taken over our business conversations and psyche these days?

First, let me clarify the concepts of AGILE and Agility. Like I once shared in a LinkedIn article and as far as the business domain is concerned, both terminologies mean different things. Today and in IT – Software Development specifically, AGILE is that term that describes a set of PRACTICES, PRINCIPLES & METHODOLOGIES that govern a whole ‘new’ way of working. Notably the need to execute projects in iterations as opposed to a less effective ‘Waterfall’ approach. The set of practices is widely popular with self-directing teams and is characterized by end-user centricity/customer focus, speed to market, quick learning and decision making cycles. Agility on the other hand, refers to a mindset and an approach to work that allows for resilience, adaptability and responsiveness within a business environment. Clearly, Agility draws largely from the mindset and values driving an AGILE culture. The idea here is with businesses, seeking to draw on the many benefits embedded in AGILE methodologies. So while it is possible to apply AGILE principles without ‘doing’ AGILE, it is impossible to ‘do’ AGILE without being efficiently adaptable.

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Once again, why is Agility such a big deal and why are we constantly bombarded with the term at every turn? The simple answer to this is: ‘The world has changed!’ The world has evolved haven transversed four major industrial revolutions. The fourth and where we’re now situated is evidently characterized by speed and relentless change. Proponents of Agility insist that it is impossible to have the same structures that powered the previous revolutions drive the degree innovation and creativity required to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

Evidently COVID-19 has further heightened the need to respond to change in ways that we’re not typically inclined to. Arguably, increasingly agile organizations seemed better positioned to address business challenges while the COVID-19 lock down lasted with many actively creating and/or utilizing digital sales channels to serve customers affected by mobility restrictions. Also, quite a number of these organizations leveraged for business continuity their existing and/or established remote and flexible work arrangement for employees.  

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So clearly, in order to survive and thrive today, businesses will need adopt a certain kind of posture which would enable them anticipate, plan for, respond to and adapt to incremental changes and sudden disruptions.

Adopting new methodologies would of necessity impact both organizational structures and functions- that is, way beyond the IT function. To this end, more and more organizations are looking to extend Agility across the entire business hence the emerging concept – ‘Business Agility’.

Mckinsey clearly spells out the five domains for which Agility may be adopted. They are:

  1. Strategy
  2. Structure
  3. Process
  4. People
  5. Technology

For sure, analyzing each of these domains is beyond the scope of this article, however, generally speaking we find that Start-ups are more inclined to have agility built into their DNA with all of these domains being intrinsically Agile. Not so for legacy organizations. For this category, Agility need to be seen as a journey. Still, organizations in this cadre are beginning to experiment with and effecting Agile Transformations across these organizational domains.

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To my mind, the people dimension to Agility is highly critical to the successes attainable with other domains. How so? Because failure to build people agility and capabilities will inadvertently slow down efforts – even render futile, energies invested in other domains. For example, seeking to deliver on a Digital Transformation agenda without a collective agile mindset driving the program will be highly counterproductive.

To sustain the drive to Agility therefore, themes and capabilities like Workforce agility, HR agility, Leadership Agility, and Learning Agility need be catered to across the entire organization.  Indeed, failure to have a well-rounded approach to driving Agility implies that an organization would struggle to read its environment, fail to respond quickly and effectively to emerging opportunities. It will also lag behind vis-a-vis identifying changing business needs. In the current industrial dispensation, and in my opinion, all of these are too great a price to pay for failing to investigate, adopt and embrace

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