Agile 101 (Part 2 of 3): Enterprise Agility Strategies

Understanding Which Enterprise Agility Strategy Might be Right for Your Organization

Many organizations begin their agile journey by forming agile teams in one or more functional areas, such as IT, marketing, and new product development. When they saw the results of improved time to market, lower cost, and higher employee engagement, they decide to adopt the framework across the enterprise. These enterprise agility initiatives are implemented using a variety of approaches, including Safe® or other customized agile transformation strategies, often branded internally by the organization. I won’t go into each enterprise approach in detail but want to help you distinguish between those that are sometimes used (mistakenly) interchangeably.

To help you begin to explore which approach may be right for your organization, in this second post of my Agile 101 series, I share very brief overviews to distinguish each along with links to fuller descriptions and examples to help you consider if an enterprise agility strategy is right for you.

Agile Transformation

Working model of business: AgileWhile more common in smaller organizations, large enterprises now recognize their urgent need to be more nimble to stay competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace. An increasingly favored strategy is to scale agile methodologies, such as Scrum, across the organization. Businesses, as varied as Ericsson, CapitalOne, and most notably, Amazon, have adopted this approach to improve the speed and quality of the products and services they bring to market. Here are brief descriptions of the most favored approaches.

SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework) is the most common and fully developed approach to agile transformation, currently being used to some degree or another by 70% of Fortune 100 companies (according to the SAFe® website). With its roots in software development, the goal of the SAFe® approach is to create a Lean enterprise

Digital Transformation: describes the process whereby an organization moves all of its business operations, including people, processes, systems, and customer interactions to technology-based interfaces. For many, but not all, this includes a cloud-based strategy. Disrupters in every sector (think Amazon, Uber/Lyft, even companies like Quicken Loans) are forcing their competitors to adopt digital strategies, as well, if they want to stay competitive.

For a more complete overview and examples of digital transformation, I recommend Clint Boulton’s recent piece for CIO. Digital transformations, while not the same as agile, can certainly benefit from their ability to execute complex projects rapidly, as many organizations are finding. After all, you cannot improve agility using mindsets and approaches designed for another era.

DevOps: In its essence, DevOps is the convergence of Development and Operations and has roots in agile methodologies. The DevOps movement was sparked by software developers’ frustrations. While they were adopting agile methodologies in their teams, they encountered obstacles in actually releasing code and collaborating across organizational silos.

DevOps emerged as a strategy to integrate system-wide structures and processes to ensure that the communication, collaboration, and coordination of agile carried throughout the organization. In this sense, DevOps is a specific type of agile transformation. Atlassian, a leader in large-scale DevOps strategies and systems, has a more in-depth overview on their site. 

When You Should Consider an Enterprise Agility Approach

All approaches to enterprise agility can only thrive with engaged support from leaders throughout the organization who have themselves made the mindset shift necessary for a radical new way of working to take root. These leaders must also recognize the need to foster and sustain an organizational culture that values whole systems thinking, broad transparency, and understands their organization as a human system of interactions, not merely a series of operational transactions. 

Critical Success Factors: Scaling agile transformation requires communication, collaboration, and coordination of stakeholders and contributors across the enterprise, as well as the integration and, often, disruption of well-established systems and processes.

You should only consider a scaled agile approach if you have broad leadership commitment and resources to follow through. This commitment includes embracing the urgent business case for a radical change, along with the acceptance that leaders at all levels of the organization will be asked to make a significant mindset shift that will take them out of their comfort zones.

This shift may impact your leaders’ familiar ways of thinking and working, as well as their roles and even their hard-earned status. To support this formidable transition, organizations such as Ericsson established Centers of Excellence as central hubs to coordinate the transformation, as well as to provide training, coaching, and support across the organization early in their transformation.

At Meyer Agile Innovation, Inc. we are working with clients who, rather than rely on a central hub, are developing Agility Champions throughout the organization to serve as resources, coaches and guides on the side to support individual and team success through their agile transformation.

If your business is operating in a rapidly changing VUCA environment and has the understanding, commitment, resources, and willingness to persevere through a complex process, agile transformation could well be worth your investment.

In my next and final post of this series Agile 101: Developing Agile Leaders, I make a case for and provide an overview of the mindset and cultural shift, as well as the six dynamics of the Agility Shift that are crucial to realizing the results of any agile transformation.


How agile is your Talent Development Strategy?


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D., is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. As president of Meyer Agile Innovation, she is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with leaders and teams across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

 

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Leading Through VUCA

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Over the past few months, a number of companies have asked me to help their leaders lead in the midst of VUCA.  These organizations include a US-based company that is preparing for a possible, but not certain, merger and needs to continue to serve its customers, grow and innovate as it awaits approval. A European pharmaceutical company that is reorganizing to be even more responsive to the marketplace. A global financial services company that is adopting new technologies and leveraging AI to meet its increasingly tech-savvy customers’ expectations.

Most likely you are familiar with the acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and was first used by the US Army War College to describe the contemporary battlefield. Today VUCA is widely used in the changing landscape of business.

 

For each of these above scenarios and many more, business success depends on the ability to compete in a rapidly changing climate.

The Agility Shift starts with expanding our understanding of what it means to be a leader.

 

Everybody is a Leader in a VUCA Environment

When things are changing rapidly, there is no time to run every challenge or opportunity up through the chain of command.

As I define in The Agility Shift, “an agile leader is anyone who spots a challenge or opportunity and effectively responds”. This definition expands the understanding of leadership from the command and control model of yesterday to one focused on communication, collaboration and coordination. No longer is leadership designated by your job title, compensation package or place in the org chart. In VUCA environments, everyone is a leader. Everyone must be empowered to act to serve the customer and the needs of the business.

 

Which Aspect of VUCA Do You Prioritize?

To understand the leadership implications of VUCA, you need to identify which of the four characteristics are most relevant to your current situation. The matrix below, first proposed by Bennet and Lemoine (2014) may help begin to identify your leadership priorities:

Leading through VUCA

VUCA Examples

Ambiguity

  • Moving into a new market
  • Launching a new product, creating a new strategic alliance
  • Expanding beyond your core competencies
  • Big leadership or organizational changes

Complexity

  • Doing business in global markets
  • Multiple stakeholders with competing or shifting  priorities
  • Multiple brands, products, supply chains, distribution channels

Uncertainty

  • Competition is launching a new product/service and the impact on the market not known
  • Merger/Acquisition MAY be on the horizon
  • Proposed legislation/regulations MAY be adopted.

Volatility

  • Natural disaster
  • Supply chain disruption
  • Labor dispute
  • Technology breach
  • Geopolitical instability
  • PR/Ethics Scandal

Of course, each of the four characteristics of VUCA rarely happens in isolation. For example, you might be experiencing volatility and complexity at the same time (A sudden change in leadership at the same time as your competitor launches a new product).

Think about which of these examples and characteristics, or VUCA combinations, best describes the eco-system in which you do business.

Which VUCA characteristics are most relevant to the challenges and opportunities you are confronting in your organization? Department? Your role as a leader?

Make Shift Happen

Now that you have identified the characteristics of VUCA that are most relevant to your current situation and before you start thinking about specific strategies and tactics to be effective, it is time to make the mindset shift to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.

 

Mindset Shift: From Planning to Preparing

In stable contexts, we can rely on the tried and true practices of planning and analysis. When the future, not to mention the present, is uncertain and unpredictable, we must make a mindset shift toward preparing and enter a state of readiness.

Just as improv performers, athletes, and SWAT teams train and prepare for various high-stakes, high-stress scenarios, you can expand your capability and capacity to be effective when things don’t go as planned.

The best practices below fall into two key and interdependent categories: 1) People and talent development strategies and 2) Systems and processes. They are interdependent because you can have the best systems and processes in the world and if you have not developed your people to make the necessary mindset and skillset shift, you will be disappointed in their performance when it counts most.

Leading Through VUCA Best Practices

As you read the following best practices for leading through VUCA, pay particular attention to those that are within your span of control or influence.

Volatility

Characterized by an unpredictable, unstable situation, though not necessarily complicated. Information is available as events unfold.

  • Train for role elasticity and develop “generalizing specialists.”
  • Improve decision-speed
  • Build redundancy into your system and build slack into the supply chain
  • Leverage technology and alternative strategies to ensure continuous communication
  • Regularly train for various disruptions, and ID needed skills, knowledge, and talent
  • Tap your hi-potentials for temporary assignments

Uncertainty

Characterized by a lack of key actionable information, such as timing, duration, cause and effect.

  • Tap your Relational Web to:
    • Reduce uncertainty
    • Gather additional information and insight, including customer data, market analytics
    • Improve access to market insights via resources like slack and yammer
    • Reflect on and share experiences of successfully working through uncertainty
  • Identify the givens of the current situation and focus on what is within your span of control
  • Provide or seek career-pathing and “stay interviews” so you can identify people’s interests and strengths to keep them engaged
  • Implement agile performance appraisals and regularly provide feedback and acknowledge agile success

Complexity

Characterized by an overwhelming amount of information, interconnected or moving parts and relationships.

  • Improve communication, collaboration and coordination
  • Clarify decision-rights
  • Adapt organizational structure and expertise to match the complexity of the context
  • Identify people who have strengths and experience in dealing with complexity
  • Recruit and develop people who can thrive in complexity (See The Agility Shift, chapters 8-9).

Ambiguity

Characterized by a lack of information and precedent, making the ability to predict the impact of actions a challenge.

  • Create (some) clarity
  • Make space for interactions
  • Re-engage and recommit to your purpose
  • Understand and prioritize user needs
  • Focus on your MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
  • Practice rapid prototyping to fail faster and learn quicker
  • Experiment and pilot to discover what you don’t know
  • Make time to learn the lessons from experience and carry them forward

These ideas are not intended as a prescription for the issues and opportunities that are most pressing for you and your fellow agile leaders. They will help get the conversation started and lead to thoughtful strategic and tactical approaches that build your competence, capacity, and confidence to effectively lead through VUCA.


Contact Me to Learn More About Leading Through VUCA


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D. is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. She is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with leaders and teams across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.


Bennett, J. and Lemoine, G., (2014) What VUCA Really Means for You, Harvard Business Review, January-February Issue.