What does it mean, today, to be an agile organization? How has that definition changed? And what does that mean for cross-functional teams tasked with delivering business results? Amy McDonald shares her thoughts on how organizations are redefining agility, and what it might mean for how they drive results.
Agile is a word that is thrown around a lot these days. I find that you have to stop and ask people what they mean by agile—there is agile with a “small a” and Agile with a “capital A.” Agile with a “small a” is the one that you find in the dictionary definition, and all companies are trying to be agile and flexible, being able to shift when they need to shift. Agile with a “capital A” comes out of the IT world and refers to a strict way of working with small teams and having an iterative approach rather than massive project plans that are executed where tasks are checked off, one after the other, over a multi-year period. So that is a big shift. You have small, self-contained teams that are cross-functional so people with different backgrounds and skills having to learn to work together and iterate, which might be very uncomfortable because initial attempts are never perfect. And when you have been used to working in a way where you don’t pull the trigger until something is perfect, that can be a very uncomfortable place to be.
There is an effort underway now in many companies to take agile more broadly than the IT area and the key stakeholders in new IT processes or applications that may be in development. This requires a very different way of working. It’s not just having small, cross-functional teams working iteratively. I think a lot of us can name teams (like this) that we have worked with in the past. So that is nothing new in terms of the way you put together business teams and business issues. But when you push that out across your whole company, you end up with a business where you don’t have the traditional organization chart and it becomes a very big change in terms of how you manage day to day, what kind of metrics and information you need, shifting the clarity around decision rights, and really changing the way you think about managing risk throughout your business.