Business Agility for Beginners

Rufous Hummingbird_Alan Schmierer_640x516

Flickr Commons, Rufous Hummingbird – Alan Schmierer

There’s a new crop of thinkers who are noticing that while Agile and Lean Startup approaches are being enthusiastically embraced by organisations, they are mostly being implemented at a team level. The promised improvements, such as quicker delivery of product and happier teams may well be there, but the organisational improvements that will lead to innovation and customer value are not fully realised.

Barry O’Reilly summarises this perfectly when he explains how difficult it is for organisations to implement Agile and Lean Startup across the enterprise. He explains, “In most cases it [is] impossible to realize anything more than incremental improvements because only part of the organization [has] changed – and that part need[s] to work with the rest of the organization, which expect[s] them to behave in the traditional way.”

Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reilly’s fabulous book, Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organisations Innovate at Scale, describes how successful organisations rethink everything, from financial management and governance, to risk and compliance, to systems architecture, to program, portfolio and requirements management, in the pursuit of radically improved performance.

Business Agility is about developing the patterns across an entire organisation to fulfil on the promise of Agile and Lean Startup:

  • Minimum viable everything – product, experience and process
  • Measure outcomes (value), not outputs (stuff done)
  • Experiment to learn – create a generative safe to try culture to continuously improve

Through meeting with thinkers at the forefront of Business Agility; Barry O’Reilly and Pat Reed, I’ve collated these questions to help organisations grow Business Agility.

Minimum Viable Everything

Do our processes generate value, rather than hold us back?

Can we map how much time we spend on value generation versus being busy?

Do we create “won’t do” lists to focus on the most valuable activities we should be doing?

Measure Outcomes no Outputs

Do we measure value in terms of making an impactful difference to a customer or to the business, with the least amount of output – more value at less cost?

Do we make value visible throughout our product development cycle?

Do we have a value model that provides a clear line of sight for everyone in the organisation on the work they do and the outcome desired?

Do our leaders articulate what success looks like in measurable terms and with real clarity, so the whole organisation can align on delivering value?

Do our metrics and reward systems measure outcomes (value) not output (more stuff done)?

Do our metrics measure the cost of value and time to value?

Do we balance business value and customer value for a sustainable organisation?

Experiment to learn

Are we an organisation that can thrive in extreme change?

Do we have feedback loops to ensure we understand:

  1. How we’re doing based on our commitments?
  2. How quickly we are learning and responding to customer feedback?
  3. If we are still doing the right thing, or if we need to change our goals based on shifting circumstances and priorities?

Do we accept that there are many unknowns, and recognise that everything is an experiment to discover where value actually lies?

Do we define tests as part of the experiment? Whether it’s a feature in a product, or a change to a process, do we identify the value which should be improved by the work, and then measure if it has been achieved?

Do we have a tolerance for failure, by testing first with a hypothesis, and being open to learning when the hypothesis proves not to be true?

Do we adapt quickly and celebrate learning?

Do we generate knowledge across the organisation by sharing the results of experiments, especially the failures?

Do we avoid big failures by breaking big challenges into thin slice experiments?

Do we accelerate feedback loops by shrinking the learning cycle to days or weeks and iterate?

Organisations on their way to Business Agility will recognise the above questions as aspirational. They will also recognise that opportunities to improve are everywhere, or as Barry O’Reilly expresses, “not just in the products or services we build, but in the way we behave and interact and most importantly, in the way we think”.

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