What is Agility?

“Agility” in Practical Terms

To be agile is to produce things of value that are also both highly reliable and highly adaptive to change, AND to be both highly reliable and highly adaptive to change in the way that you produce them.

In other words, we define a product, a service, a process, an organization, or an individual to be “agile,” if it possesses both of these two qualities.

First, it has to be highly reliable.  By “highly reliable” we mean it either never breaks, or in the off-chance it does break, it is quick to diagnose and easy to repair.  And, we define “breakage” as anytime something requires manual intervention in order to return to normal operation.

Second, it has to be highly adaptive to change in a way that does not adversely affect reliability.

Why Agility Matters

History and psychology teach us that our ability to predict and plan for the future is limited. Ironically, history and psychology also teach us that our capacity to believe in our predictions and plans is unlimited.  Can you see the problem?  It gets worse, because the rate of change is no longer accelerating, change has become a constant-state condition of the environment. Plus, reality never has had any respect for your plans, and you shouldn’t count on the universe easing up any time soon.

This has all conspired to create a condition so acute that it has even earned a name, “VUCA” (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). 

VUCA manifests in many ways.  For example, look at how problems arise, or how opportunities present themselves.  They are coming faster not slower.  They are becoming less predictable.  Their lead times are shrinking.  And the time you’ve got to respond is shrinking even faster.

Hence the imperative for Agile.  Trying to cope in a VUCA world using pre-Agile tools is akin to playing tennis with a golf club—you can do it, but not well; you will be ineffective and you will be exhausted.

VUCA spells misery and eventual irrelevance for those unwilling to change and unable to adapt.

VUCA also means opportunity for those who are ready, willing and able to change and adapt. 

Agile is a philosophy for prospering under VUCA conditions.  In fact, “Agile” is needed on both a micro and a macro level.  On a micro level it is about becoming agile in how you design, build and support your products and services—agility in product development.  On a macro level, it is about becoming agile in how you lead, manage and operate your organization—agility in organizational leadership.

We can help you with both.

Agility in Product Development

Is your $30,000 product development effort really $3,000 of product development with $27,000 of meetings and rework?  Is your product’s development, which was estimated to cost $X, take Y-months and produce Z-results, really costing $2X, taking 3Y-months, and producing ½Z results?  VUCA.

In a VUCA world developing a product or service that merely meets customer expectations is akin to a hockey player passing the puck to where the receiving skater was at the time the puck was passed – ultimately you’re behind, and miss the mark.  You have to lead the skater with your pass; better yet, pass the puck to the open space confident that your skater will go there, too.  The same is true with product development.  True leaders in product development design products that will create customer expectations to which would-be competitors will have to respond.  They lead their customers and develop for the open space.

We can teach you how to do this.  With our education, coaching and consulting services we can teach you an Agile way of doing product development in a VUCA world—a way that is highly reliable and highly adaptive to change, and which produces a product that itself is also highly reliable and highly adaptive to change.

Agility in Management & Leadership

There are two reasons why you should care about inculcating Agile in the leadership, management and operations of your organization.

Reason #1.  To leverage the competitive opportunity that VUCA presents, you’ve decided to adopt Agile in how you approach product development. As with making any transformative change, there are leadership responsibilities that go beyond just providing the funding and the staffing—those are the easy things.  Unfortunately, that is where most leaders stop; they check those two boxes and then turn their attention to something else.

The number one reason for Agile adoption efforts to struggle to take hold, to not deliver the fruit of their promise, or to fail outright is because leadership has failed to properly condition the cultural soil. They scatter perfectly good Agile seeds, then they walk away.  They don’t plant methodically, they don’t water, or feed, or protect against noxious weeds and invasive insects, or prune, and they are shocked and confused when they return to find either barren ground or a crop that could most generously be described as pathetic.

The condition of an organization’s culture—its receptiveness or its toxicity to change—is the indisputable responsibility of the organization’s leadership.  If you want agility in product development, you better have agility in leadership.

Reason #2. You’ve realized that VUCA is not localized to product development; it is afflicting your whole organization.  Just like there is durable competitive advantage at the micro level by inculcating agility in product development, there is even more powerful competitive advantage by inculcating agility at the macro level, in the organization’s leadership and management.

You’re seasoned enough to know that your organization’s success, its influence, its political power, its prosperity, it’s relevance begins with its proficiency in both of two things.  The first is your organization’s ability to align with its customer—better yet, with its customer’s customer.  The second is your organization’s ability to honor its commitments—to do what it says it is going to do.  Both are required; one without the other doesn’t work.  The importance of these things do not diminish in a VUCA world; however, they do become exponentially more difficult.

With our education, coaching and consulting services we can teach you an Agile way of leading and managing your organization in a VUCA world—a way that is highly reliable and highly adaptive to change, and which produces an organization that itself is also highly reliable and highly adaptive to change.