Tuesday, March 22, 2011

10 Dynamics of Effective Agile Organizations


Over the last ten years I have been focused on helping organizations transform their principles and behaviors toward more agile ways of operating. The ten dynamics discussed here call out consistent patters I have discovered in this work.  Organizations demonstrating these dynamics have consistently demonstrated higher levels of business agility.
Transforming organizations to a healthier balance of these dynamics provides a natural win-win scenario that provides significant improvement to the bottom line while at the same time improving the morale and the quality of life of the employees. Ultimately, this win-win condition allows the enterprise to more effectively compete in their chosen markets. 
This work has included lots of different types of organizations. I’ve had the opportunity to work with manufacturing companies, insurance, education, publishing & printing, financial, and technical companies. I’ve also worked with organizations at various levels of enterprise agility. Some well down the road to increased business agility and with others just getting started with their transformation.  Additionally, it’s quite common for divisions and departments within organizations to be at different levels of agility.  For example, work within a multinational bank demonstrated wide variance between their private banking and investment banking divisions. 
One of the most interesting companies I worked with was a young start-up company who had no idea of all this agile talk, but intuitively and effectively applied these dynamics because it felt right; it felt natural.  As a result they quickly became a market leader, became very profitable, and became a highly desired place to work. 
One of the takeaways I hope you gain from this is that these dynamics should feel natural.  Organizations have shaped us over the years to act in very unnatural ways.  What we are discovering is that, as an organization returns to what feels natural, it becomes more profitable, more humanistic, and ultimately becomes a more healthy enterprise.
You will also notice patterns and variations of these ten dynamics across top selling leadership books:
  • Good to great - Collins
  • 7 Habits of highly effective people - Covey
  • The DNA of leadership & Creating We - Glasier
  • The Toyota Way – Liker
  • Tribal Leadership – Dave Logan, John King, Haile Write-Fischer 
  • Servant leadership – Greenleaf 
  • Certain to Win – Chet Richards
  • The Art of War – Sun Tzu 
That’s because these works recognize natural patterns.  Even Scott Adams became famous for Dilbert because he calls out much of this unnatural and often comical behavior within organizations that we can all relate to.  

Agility

When discussing organizational agility it’s important to call out the distinction between agile software development and business agility.  Essentially, agility is a value system that emphasizes people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness. Agile Software development has become very popular over the last decade and takes this agile notion and applies it within the context of evolving the features of a software product or project.  
A more holistic view is business agility, which applies the agile value system across the enterprise.  The agile enterprise applies balanced growth to the following ten dynamics while staying grounded in the foundational values of, people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness.
Additionally the agile enterprise builds on these values by increasing awareness to and fostering the specific values of the organization.  With a shared understanding of values, a shared set of principles will guide the organization behaviors toward the realization of those values.

The Dynamics

The ten dynamics are below.
Roles & Responsibilities: Roles provide focus toward objectives and allow organizations a way to segment responsibility and better understand opportunities and risk. Additionally, roles help provide and retain necessary identity in individuals and groups.  A healthy identity is a necessary component to a healthy psyche.
Vision & Roadmap: Vision and roadmaps should be considered two sides of the same coin.  When kept in harmony, a flow of value should emerge from a vision and its roadmap.  It’s not healthy to operate for a length of time without an understanding of where you are going or how you’ll get there.  Vision provides orientation and roadmaps capture a set of decisions on how to achieve that vision.
Priority: With roadmaps in place for products and capabilities to support products, seek input from all appropriate perspectives (roles) to triangulate the appropriate priorities on the roadmaps. Consider risk and opportunity from many perspectives (market, financial, technical, resource availability, etc.) as guidance for prioritizing.
Relationships: Apply the agile values of people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness to foster healthier relationships.  Effective agile organizations demonstrate strong relationships or a high level of connectedness across their ecosystem.  The ecosystem minimally includes employees, customers, partners, suppliers, as well as physical and intellectual communities outside the organization. Relationships along with language and behavior are the DNA of an organization and can be used to describe its culture.
Appreciation: Organizations should foster authentic appreciation through trust and respect.  While an organization or an individual can’t give someone trust and they can’t give someone respect, they can foster an environment where individuals can earn trust and earn respect.
Purpose: Organizations that are purposeful are able to organize practitioners toward meaningful results.  This dynamic complements vision.  While vision provides orientation, purpose provides meaning and answers the question, “Why?”  Purpose provides teams with a sense of mission.   Additionally, purpose can be used to effectively upgrade corporate culture.  
Sustain: Achieving high levels of productivity is not very meaningful to the long-term health of an organization if they lack the capability to sustain over time.  Furthermore, simply maintaining today’s level of productivity is not a viable long-term option in a competitive marketplace.  Healthy organizations need to maintain an ongoing focus on optimization and the elimination of waste.  On a routine basis practitioners need to retrospect for improvement; focused collaboration and action aimed at ways to improve.  While management should not dictate specific process on practitioners, they should hold practitioners accountable to define and continuously improve their practice.
Communities of Practice: Healthy organizations leverage and support natural groups that exist within every organization.  One technique to do this is to cultivate and grow internal Communities of Practice (CoP).   CoPs are different from other types of communities.  CoPs can be viewed as a pattern that can be pointed at a problem or necessary area of focus within an organization.  Care should be taken to not over formalize CoPs, but a modest organizational investment in time and support will provide significantly positive returns in terms of increased productivity and reduced costs. 
Visualize Information: Visualizing information enhances the ability to see things through the mind’s eye.  More successful agile organizations value going beyond text to capture organizational information.  When information is communicated using text alone information can get lost or at least hidden.  All types of information can be visualized including, technical architectures and designs, business domain models, project status, financials, marketing and sales, etc.  Just about any type of information can be communicated visually.  
Organic Perspective: Perhaps one of the most important dynamics of the agile enterprise has to do with how it views itself.  If the leaders in the organization have a mechanized view they will look at the enterprise and see a machine with interchangeable parts.  An organic ecosystem view is much healthier.  

Conclusion

These dynamics foster the agile value system across the enterprise, which results in more natural, profitable, humanistic, and healthy enterprise.

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