Agile Organizations

Scripture 2 Sam 22:34/Psalm 18:33 – “He gives me the agility of a deer; he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.”  

Agile organizations are sort of like mom and apple pie – of course that’s what we’re all trying to build, right? Well its tougher than you think and today we’re going to talk about the history and meaning of agile, why it matters in 2022 and help you apply key principles to your company in 2022. 

Agile originated as a better way to build software. In particular, early 20th century work on Plan, Do, Study, Act was the precursor to Agile. Then the Agile Manifesto came out in 2001 to guide what is called Agile Software Development. 

We are uncovering better ways of developing

software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on

the right, we value the items on the left more.

Now in 2022, due to several market forces, entire companies are learning to apply this approach to their entire company. Why? The world continues to move and change at a faster and faster rate. The amount of change which companies must evaluate and adapt their value proposition is dramatic. An Agile organization is one of the more adaptable types of organizations there can be and so is increasingly a required culture component for any company to be successful – without it, most companies are only a few changes from bankruptcy and failure.   

What’s an example? In Josh’s consulting work, he has helped conduct product market fit work which can be applied to a particular company’s capabilities and resources. In some cases this is done poorly – in one exercise, the product market fit research revealed a company had built software and hardware for a knee and hip rehabilitation product which had no market given the particularly unique dynamics of given hospitals and reimbursement. 

In another exercise, a weight loss surgeon was prevented from doing outpatient surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic so Josh worked with the team to define the key components of the medical weight loss services and move as many of them as possible to a digital platform which resulted in a highly valuable, rapidly growing membership of patients seeking support during isolation and lockdown. 

How? Here are five steps based on principles from the book Team Topologies to use as you assess and deploy an agile culture across your organization: 

  1. Assess your organization – how do lines of communication mix with org chart? Usually lines of communications are completely mis-aligned with the org chart and more importantly, with the stream of value you deliver to customers 
  2. Autonomy – how can you give autonomy to a diverse 6-8 person team who is organized around a client, revenue line, service or product? How can you enable them with a platform of support from technical to administrative services which encourage fast flow and complete focus on the customer?
  3. Trust – high trust allows greater speed, agility and productivity. Therefore referencing the issues of team size (6-8) and the Dunbar numbers of 15, 50 and 150 for larger groups is critical for trust and success; then incentivize everything related to the performance and output at the team level – no more high performers at an individual level – only the team matters.
  4. Cognitive Load – the amount of work you give a team is also important – many times, teams are asked to do too much – switching to different projects or subjects is a huge inhibitor to speed and agility – therefore, limit as much as possible the cognitive load to what a team can handle and minimize as many other distractions as possible.
  5. Communication – while many companies want an open communication culture, this can actually inhibit speed and agility. Teams should only be communicating or interacting with each other for a particular purpose related to the customer and business problem at hand – and in these cases for limited amounts of time or with some determined end point. Otherwise, the front line teams directly serving a client, solving a customer problem, leading a revenue line, etc should be left to completely focus on those needs – and everyone else serves them in that pursuit. 

We hope this inspires you to build agile culture into your company. What are some ways The Consultant and The Coach help their clients become more agile? 

The Consultant

  • Train the executive team on aspects of agile and help them develop an internal, shared vocabulary around the customer, their value proposition and ways to meet the market needs in a more flexible, dynamic way. 
  • Work with a board and/or executive team to assess and deploy aspects of agile across their entire company – usually starting with technology or software but quickly deploying across the entire enterprise

The Coach

  • Coach executives on how to apply agile principles to their own leadership style and their division. 
  • Develop cultural initiatives which train leaders across the company on how to build teams and recruit talent which are more agile, team-oriented members who better align with the organization’s vision, mission, values and culture.