In the global marketplace, the ability to be agile in the face of shifting market demands is necessary for business sustainability. Yet companies across industries and geographies struggle to adopt an Agile mindset. A recent McKinsey report shows just four percent of companies surveyed have successfully implemented an Agile transformation, despite the fact that three-quarters of respondents say organizational agility is a top priority.
It’s not surprising. Organizational agility requires an enterprise-wide change in thinking, and a willingness to embrace a more creative, design thinking approach to problem-solving and business development. It requires substantial change in the way a business operates — but it can be done.
In my career, I’ve had the good fortune to partner with several organizations in their quests to achieve organizational transformations. Through these experiences, I’ve identified seven elements that are present in every successful Agile transformation, helping organizations drive more speed and value into their workflow processes.
Whether a company wants to transform a project team, a business unit, or the entire global operation, these Seven Dimensions of Agile Transformation provide a roadmap to get there.
Every organization talks about the importance of aligning the business behind the strategic vision, but the further down the workflow you go, the more diluted the concept of alignment becomes. At the project level, for example, development teams can get so focused on completing a specific task or assignment, they often lose sight of whether that task is aligned with the bigger picture vision.
Agility requires bi-directional visibility from the c-suite down — and the team level up. This means the c-suite can easily track the progress of projects throughout the organization to validate outcomes and identify any actions they need to take. In turn the teams require visibility up to the c-suite to understand whether their efforts are aligned with the strategic vision, and how their efforts are contributing to those goals. Such bi-directional visibility can only be achieved when there is a culture of transparency and honesty at every level.
Sequencing (or prioritization).
At its heart, agility is about being able to respond to perishable opportunities that will drive business value. But you can only do that if your workflow is optimized to rapidly respond and adapt based on the value of the work you pursue. Sequencing provides that agility by identifying the most productive order of activities to accelerate outcomes while reducing waste. For example, if a team has ten projects, dedicating more resources to the one that will deliver the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time, will generate better results than assigning equal resources to them all. Teaching employees how to sequence by focusing on outcomes rather than tasks is how you optimize workflows and generate more business value.
Quantify Work in Progress (WiP).
Once you have alignment, visibility, and sequencing based on outcomes, you can further tweak the workflow by quantifying your WiP. Too often, teams get caught up in doing lots of projects simultaneously and wearing multiple hats, which may feel productive, but actually creates unnecessary waste and delays. The more tasks a person has, the more time they spend in transition, or working on projects with the shortest deadlines even if they generate less value.
Deal with your local value stream.
In project development, we often focus only on the piece that we are responsible for. This may add efficiency to one aspect of the process, but often to the detriment of others. To achieve greater agility, each project should be planned from concept to consumption and involve all relevant stakeholders in creating an efficient workflow. By taking an end-to-end approach, project teams and business leaders can identify hidden risks, determine better sequences, and get feedback from stakeholders early enough in the process to prevent expensive changes down the line.
Deal with your system value stream.
Once you master the art of local value stream alignment, take the effort system-wide. In every company, there is always more to do than resources to do it. To be Agile, you need a system for prioritizing all investments to best serve the needs of the organization. To do this, make a list of every project, program and initiative underway; determine how these efforts are funded and by whom, how they align with the strategy, what value they will deliver; then identify what risks they face across the delivery model. This will provide the information you need to prioritize investments, reduce waste and overlap, and streamline the entire organizational workflow.
This final dimension of an Agile transformation touches all of the others, and must be applied in conjunction with each of the previous six steps. We think a lot about technical excellence in IT projects, but it is equally valuable in structuring value across the organization. One of the most important pieces of technical excellence is incorporating feedback loops at various levels in the portfolio to ensure stakeholders’ needs and opinions are factored into decision-making, and that risks are identified and dealt with promptly.
To achieve organizational agility, the entire company has to understand and embrace the strategic vision, and actively align every task, decision, and metric they pursue to those big business goals. It is the only way to drive the transformation in the right direction, and to keep everyone on track.
By quantifying the value of your WiP you can prioritize the tasks that generate the most value, and assign resources to completing them. This adds further value to the workflow and ensures the most important activities are fast-tracked.
Experience tells us that a transformation requires more than a goal. It demands a clear vision of what you want to be in the future and a roadmap to get there. When organizations incorporate these seven dimensions of Agile transformation into their agile roadmap, it gives them the structure and progression of predictable patterns needed to stay the course. Collectively, they address not only the outcomes challenge but also the “buy-in” challenges that are commonly present in most agility transformations.
For more details about each of these dimensions and how to implement them as part of an agile journey, check out my ongoing blog series on this topic.
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Andy Czuchry Jr, PhD is a proven business transformation leader with extensive experience driving strategic and operational transformations that significantly increase business-value outcomes for mission-critical objectives. Over the past 10 years of his 25+ year career in business and technology innovation, Andy has led nearly a dozen organizational transformations in national and global organizations spanning across all disciplines, both within and beyond the traditional agile core.
Andy earned Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Information and Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence, with a minor in physiological psychology) from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in Computer Science and Mathematics with a focus in applied algorithm development. Andy maintains numerous certifications in the domains of Agility, Lean Six Sigma, and Program Management. He is the holder of two patents issued by the US Patent Office, as well as a recognized global leader with 20+ peer-reviewed papers published in elite business and technology journals and conferences.