The Age of Agile: Delivering Business Change in an agile and digital world

Posted on: December 12, 2018 by Adam Francis

Agile is now the new norm; it resonates with the necessity for organisations to adapt quickly to the fast-changing marketplace and new, often disruptive technologies. So, what are the key challenges in this new age of Agile and what do business leaders need to address and prioritise?

Having been around for many years, the Agile approach to software development is well-established and most of us are familiar with daily scrums, sprints, iterative releases and backlogs. Waterfall may not be extinct yet, but a survey in 2017 by HPE showed that over 67% of organisations now use ‘Pure Agile’ or ‘Lean towards Agile’ as their primary development method. In recent years we have seen a phenomenal growth in Agile Development particularly with our Government clients, but, without the desired results or return on investment.

Why? Because of how it’s landed in the business. This requires a shift in our thinking about business change and how we support organisations that are operating in this Agile way.

Business change in an agile world

To maximise the benefits of Agile Development, organisations themselves need to have agility. Organisational Agility is critical to business success and in a McKinsey Global Survey in 2017, two-thirds of business leaders put organisation agility as a top or top-three priority. Organisations need an innate ability to innovate, respond to market changes and new technology, to quickly mobilise new teams and to collaborate. Organisational Agility is now a significant differentiator and sits alongside Digital Transformation as a CEO top priority.

We know that agile development embraces change at its core through iterative, incremental and evolutionary phases, but if we fail to bring people along with us then benefits will not be realised. The people must also be ready, willing and able to absorb this continuous cycle of change.

Also, Agile requires collaboration between business users and developers. We know organisations’ structures and performance measurements often inadvertently inhibit the creation and development of high performing multidiscipline teams. Effective collaboration rarely just ‘happens’ but requires a culture shift and enabling systems and processes. The ability to make mistakes in a no blame culture and to quickly learn from these mistakes is an important tenant of Agile development. Agile does not happen in a vacuum it requires an organisation to recognise and encourage learning as a core value.

Focal points for Leaders delivering agile business change

In a utopian world we would, of course, be successfully delivering Agile software development within a highly agile organisation. But the real world is messy and we live in a mixed economy of Waterfall and Agile, running at two speeds. Organisations are large, complicated, slow to change and do not have all the necessary Agile Traits. Our people are also weary of change; a Prosci survey in 2015 stated over 73% of respondents claimed their organisation was near, at or past the saturation point of change! Our work within Government and with large private sector clients has identified four focal points for those leaders in the complicated world of Agile.

1. Change Leadership: Given that change is continuous and fast paced, change leadership also needs to be self-sustaining and multilevel and it carries an even more important role in keeping the vision alive throughout the cycle of changes. The role of a leader is to ensure that change leadership has a depth and breadth across the organisation. Change champions, team leaders and managers must all be able to embrace and articulate the vision and the journey to others, and they must be empowered and trusted. Change Leadership must be cascaded down through the organisation.

2. Agile Readiness: Business leaders must be ruthlessly realistic in assessing their Agile Readiness to identify the interventions required to support the change. Assessing current organisational competencies identifies the cultural shift delta required for this Agile world. Understanding how the internal processes, such as Governance and Performance Measures, support Agile working will show the current level of alignment and identify significant blockers to be overcome. We like to think our teams work well together and collaborate – but when did we last assess the level of collaboration across the organisation? Good Agile working with self-organising, empowered and well-connected teams enables plans to quickly adapt and change which is a vital capability in the ‘Just-in-Time’ world of Agile.

3. King Comms: The continuous cycle of software releases and the extended transition heightens the need for effective communications planning and execution. Without awareness people struggle to welcome and embrace the change within the context and manner it is being delivered. Stakeholder and employee engagement are vital, and the change narrative needs to be clear and consistently woven into the communications output. Importantly, people need to be educated into what it means to be Agile.

In this fast-paced world of planned and unexpected change, organisations need to be more agile. But agility is a state of being – it is who we are not what we do. Leaders who can improve their organisational agility will be more successful when implementing Agile.

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About Adam Francis
Executive Consultant
Adam Francis is an Executive Consultant with extensive experience in shaping and leading organisational change programmes to support Atos clients with their Digital Transformations. Adam is a member of Atos’ global Organisational Change Management practice and has worked in a wide range of sectors including media, education, services, engineering and defence, with recent experience with Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. His passion is ensuring people are ready, willing and able to adopt the change being introduced and ensuring effective alignment of senior stakeholders to enable successful implementation and the realisation of the business benefits.

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