Inter-team qualities for Business Agility

Business Agility is an enterprise-wide mechanism to rapidly sense, respond and deliver the right business initiatives that will benefit an organisation and its customers. To increase business agility, an organisation needs to promote the qualities of collaboration, alignment and synchronisation amongst its teams and departments.

Governance processes should be built around these qualities since it affords individuals and teams a great degree of freedom to pursue the organisation’s goals and outcomes. It will also help close the gap between strategic direction and day-to-day team execution.

Consider scaling team frameworks such as Scrum to create ways of working that promote these qualities.

Collaboration

Regardless of background, seniority or specialism, teams and individuals from across the business should have the freedom to collaborate. Collaboration can extend beyond the business to include business partners and clients.

Managers should help the business to reorganise so that cross-functional teams of specialists, regardless of department, can work as single teams to rapidly experiment and deliver business outcomes.

Alignment

All individuals should understand and be aligned to the organisation’s mission, vision and strategic direction. Each team and department should have clarity of the business outcomes that are currently being sought.

Leaders should enthuse and align their colleagues; managers should create the environment and ways of working with their colleagues which reduces misalignment.

Synchronisation

Creating cross-functional and co-locate delivery teams can greatly improve business agility. However, despite this, often a single team cannot deliver products and services on their own. Often many teams need to be involved, which necessitates the synchronisation of effort across many teams.

To illustrate this Klaus Leopold gives a useful analogy which I’ve expressed as the following:

A customer wanting to have a letter written, where each team works independently by controlling a row of keys on a keyboard. Typing the letter would be uncoordinated, slow and frustrating.

To improve time to market, it’s inevitable that teams need to interact. So, rather than teams independently hitting their keys at speed, it’s better if each team slows down, coordinate and collectively hit the keys at the right time and sequence.

An Approach to Organisation Change

When working with organisations and clients, this is my reasoning and a suggested approach for examining where and how organisational change should occur.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t dive into detail here. Neither am I suggesting this a one-size-fits-all approach; this is a generic approach that should be customised to the client.

  1. In order for an organisation to compete it needs to establish (or reaffirm) a clear market differentiator that appeals to their customers/clients.
  2. The market is changing rapidly. There’s plenty of emerging threats and opportunities, some are known, some are unknown(able).
  3. The organisation needs to identify the cash cow operations & services they need to be maintained and improved; these drive revenue. This creates one side of what’s termed the Ambidextrous Organisation.
  4. They also need to retire operations & services that no longer drive revenue or are no longer a strategic fit.
  5. Critically the organisation needs to seek new operations & services for new or existing customers/clients. This creates the other side of the ambidextrous organisation. In reality, only a few ideas are credible to scale to become the new cash cows.
  6. Points 3, 4 & 5 should establish a continuous balanced flow of initiatives. This enables the organisation to continuously sense & respond to ensure ongoing market fitness. This creates a Lean Enterprise
  7. Especially for Point 5, since there’s a huge amount of uncertainty, the ways of working, organisational structure, success criteria and leadership style is different to what’s needed for Point 3.
  8. To seek new viable operations and services, the organisation needs to be especially outcome driven, with flexible ways of working, an experimental approach supported by leaders, close co-discovery with stakeholders, close collaboration with customers/clients, where potentially many strategies and solutions are vetted.
  9. This ability for the organisation to sense and respond is in keeping with The Agile Business Consortium’s definition of Business Agility.
Agile Business Consortium’s definition of Business Agility

Where to start

To develop and carryout changes of such significance and depth requires the direct involvement of the leadership team. The following slides provides a high-level view of what such an engagement is likely to cover.

Further Reading

Thanks to Luca Minudel for helping me strengthen this article.

Beyond traditional organisational resilience

In business, organisational resilience often relates to ensuring services and operations are maintained, or return to their current state after a period of instability.

However, there is an extension of resilience that organisations can utilise to continuously evolve, find new stable states and rapidly seek novel opportunities.

These benefits can result from intended low exposure to instability that would otherwise be too brand damaging in high degrees.

Examples of types of organisational resilience

Barclays: Resilience testing used to ensure existing service & operations are maintained

Netflix: Increases resilience from purposeful disruption of infrastructure – Chaos Monkey

Domino’s (USA): In 2010, recovered brand image through a self-critical ad campaign

Walmart: During Hurricane Katrina crisis, Walmart used their logistics capability to provide disaster relief to local communities; thus capitalising on this Black Swan event

Stabilise rapidly and exploit new learning

Whether instability is intentional or a result of external factors, organisations should be structured to rapidly respond, and capitalise on new understanding

References

Barclays: Reference on request

Netflix: Chaos Monkey

Domino’s (USA): How Domino’s Pizza Reinvented Itself

Walmart: How Wal-Mart used Hurricane Katrina to repair its image

Find out more

Resilient Organizations: How to Survive, Thrive and Create Opportunities Through Crisis and Change – Erica Seville (2016)

Antifragile – Nassim Taleb (2012)

My mini-series of articles on organisational resilience (2018)

I’m available to deliver a talk on Agile and Organisational Resilience.

Contact Dean Latchana to learn more about how organisations can benefit from intentional disruption and crises.
(dean@latchana.co.uk)

S.I.L.L.Y Organisations

S is for Structure

With its functional silos, the structure of our organisations is not effective in creating an environment for shared intent, cross-functional collaboration and synchronisation.

Create small, colocated, full-time, cross-disciplined, self-managing, long-lasting teams that continuously deliver value directly to our organisations’ customers and clients.

I is for Incentives

We often incentivise, reward and recognise individuals and departments with little regard to whether they’ve worked alongside others to ensure value is delivered end-to-end.

Instead, we should evaluate performance holistically and with peer feedback for learning and development. We should reward shared success against the competition.

L is for Leadership

As leaders, we are often schooled in, and then perpetuate ways of working that are a legacy of 19th-century manufacturing and 20th-century cost-driven centralisation. This may be appropriate for managing from a distance and at scale.

However, it’s not fit-for-purpose for most 21st-century business endeavours where organisations need to become value-driven and sense & respond to market conditions. As leaders, we should know teams need to be devolved, yet have a more involved leadership that coaches and aligns teams.

L is for Losing Time

Too often organisations lose 80% of their time trying to deliver what is in reality only 20% of the value.

Instead, our organisations should be spending, at most, 20% of their time determining whether there’s potential to realise 80% of the value. Test assumptions, challenge convictions, and course-correct before spending 20% of the time and budget.

If, despite best efforts, the value cannot be realised, pull the plug on the work without delay, regroup, reflect and set off in a new direction.

Embody the principles of Action before Perfection and Delivering Value Early and Often

Y is for Yesterday

In a fast-changing world, yesterday’s success is no guarantee for future success.

Check out Barry O’Reilly book Unlearn.

S, I, L, L and Y spells SILLY.

Each point represents the often unquestioned reality of many of our organisations. It hampers Business Agility – the ability of an organisation to continuously sense and respond to its environment in order to fulfil its mission.

We need to be bold, ask challenging questions and co-discover ways to create organisations that support our colleagues to deliver value to customers, clients and civil society.

Email or call me to discuss.
dean@latchana.co.uk
+447801 953 120

A letter to a future client

Recently a potential client approached me about starting an engagement following some agile training I provided to their leadership team.

Although they’re very keen to get me on board, I wanted to check whether they were ready to work with me to uncover and deliver profound change to the organisation; change that is likely to make many leaders uncomfortable and sceptical.

Here’s what I wrote to them. I’ve anonymised identifying details.

From: Dean Latchana

Sent: 19 October 2018 11:26

To: xxx

Subject: Thoughts on joining [company]

Hi xxx,

Thank you for the offer for me to join [company].

In order for me to truly help the organisation, and know if I’d be a good fit, I’d like to understand the potential appetite for fairly profound organisational change.

It’s likely we’d need to review and change some fundamental expectations of how [company] is structured, how colleagues work together and how they’re led.

As we explored during the training, regardless of business ‘silos’, we need to consider creating more cross-functional small teams who sit together, potentially alongside their clients.

Regarding the clients, we may need to put more focus on collaboration, co-discover and joint experimentation to drive toward shared outcomes, and therefore put less emphasis on expected pre-defined deliverables.

We should also examine and change the traditional role of leaders. Changing them from defining pre-determined deliverables in a top-down manner. We probably need to coach leaders to embrace uncertainty in terms of how [company] competes, serves its clients and in terms of the natural uncertainty of innovation. Leadership probably need to switch to a governance structure which supports empowered delivery teams who continuously pivot or terminate initiatives as insight is gathered.

We need to consider how budgets are set. In a complex business environment, budgets probably shouldn’t be set on a 12-month cycle with pre-defined targets and resource allocations. To increase agility, innovation and competitiveness, we need to consider delivery teams having access to the “bank” where initiatives are frequently reviewed and financed on the strength of their latest insights and ROI.

We need to work with HR and Recruitment to ensure we have the right colleagues who have the right mindset to not only refine BAU operations, but also develop a mindset of exploration where there’s an appetite for ambiguity and delivering business outcomes at pace.

We probably need to visualise existing work at a portfolio level. An enterprise portfolio view will help us decide where to put emphasis, and quickly terminate any ongoing initiatives which aren’t delivering value now or in the future. At the portfolio level, we should consider creating a balanced scorecard that monitors existing ROI and potential ROI.

There’s plenty more we can explore and I’m saying all this without understanding [company] in great detail. However, what I’ve said gives a flavour of what we may need to change in order for [company] to operate effectively, serve its clients and compete.

Do you think my role will have the c-suite support for us to seriously consider these profound changes?

No doubt there’ll be hesitancy and some scepticism, however tactics are available for the leadership team to learn and adjust these new ways of working.

Best,
Dean