Business agility takes the philosophy behind agile development and applies it to every part of the company or organization. Agility carries a number of commercial benefits, including being faster to market and having greater adaptability to change.
Crucially, business agility also streamlines organizational processes, helping bring overheads down whilst keeping quality up.
It does so by ensuring that development sequences are short and cost-efficient, which allows a process of constant change and improvement for new products. While the agile development approach is usually only used for short term projects, business agility takes these principles organization-wide, allowing every section of a business to benefit.
This requires commitment from the whole team, as well as serious buy-in and reinforcement from leaders, but it can reap huge rewards.
Properly applied, business agility does exactly as it sounds — it makes a business more agile.
This means that a company is ready to adapt to internal and external changes, deal rapidly and efficiently with the needs and desires of their customers, and be at the cutting edge of innovation and adaptation without spiraling costs or sacrificing quality.
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An agile business will constantly have an advantage in the marketplace over its competitors, as it will be faster to respond. But not only will it be quicker than its rivals, but its actions will also be informed, innovative and in tune with what customers want.
Plenty of businesses think they are agile because their product development teams work using agile principles. However, there is a big difference between being agile and adopting agile frameworks.
True business agility is a far more holistic proposition.
Agile development might mean that each product or project is realized using agile principles, but to be agile across a business means a top-down, strategic process, and some pretty fundamental changes across the whole company.
Business agility means fluidity and flexibility, with staff and teams able to move seamlessly between roles. What’s more, resources must be made available wherever they are most needed at any one time.
Because of this, self-organizing teams are one of the key elements for agile success. Business agility requires teams to respond quickly to issues or opportunities, to gather the best people with the most appropriate skills, and take advantage immediately. Trust and empowerment is vital, so there have to be stable underlying structures in place to allow teams to follow their instincts and be spontaneous and creative.
In this way, processes, governance and infrastructure all have to exist to allow business agility to flourish.
Business agility can be a tricky proposition to get on board with. Most businesses love nothing more than certainty, so the idea of deliberately moving to a more uncertain, flexible and faster-paced way of working can feel unwise or unsettling to some.
Similarly, taking control, sign-off and decision-making powers away from the C-Suite can be hard. Senior management often struggles with the concept of empowering less experienced staff, and getting the right mix of independence and oversight can be a bit of a balancing act.
One big risk in applying business agility is that it can encourage short-termism, giving priority to rapid reactions and immediate solutions over measured, long-term strategies. Business agility does run the risk of putting a company into a permanently reactive frame of mind, dealing with issues and opportunities only as and when they pop-up — so this needs to be well-managed.
Broadly speaking, the three biggest obstacles in the way of effective business agility are fear, overconfidence, and ego. The fundamental changes required can be scary, ceding control is a difficult prospect for leaders, and a lack of continued foresight can lead to poor long-term results.
However, remaining stiff and rigid these days as an organization is hardly a guarantee of success either, and a properly agile business has a huge range of advantages and opportunities available to them.