Agile is around for at least +20 years. However, one big complaint was “how can we scale agile” or “how we go beyond teams”. You might consider business agility as the 3rd wave of agile. But is really hat the case? The world changed a lot in the last +20 years there are many other things to change in the next years. COVID-19 amplified lots of the issues that was already in place. It’s really business agility something entirely new or just an aggregation of previous movements, practices, and values? Business Agility is a hot topic right now, lots of people talking about, very few really doing it. It’s hard to get real agile teams nowadays, imagine whole orgs being agile, even harder. IMHO to make the org agile is super hard, however, some of the reflections that business agility is proposing sounds right in the sense we might be asking these questions anyway.
What is Business Agility Anyways?
Business Agility is about having agile at the core of the organization, the boards, the executives, the C-levels, the high-level mgmt, the leaders of the company but also going outside the IT and have it in other departments like Marketing, HR, Financial, Sales, etc. We can see business agility about having some core capabilities well established such as:
* Agile Delivery
* Product Innovation
* Organization Adaptability
* Leadership effectiveness
We are talking about applying agile principles beyond technology. The word hard does not express how hard this is. All these capabilities can be considered new capabilities because if the org had it we would not be talking about them.
Business Agility Relation with other Movements
IMHO Business Agility it’s backed by several other movements such as:
* Lean Startup
* DTA / TTA / Lean UX
Ok. I can see some relationship with all previous movements but CMMI. Well maybe because you are thinking about the bad parts of CMMI (Slow, process-driven, inefficient, certifications) which are very bad things. I would recommend no company to get a CMMI label. CMMI had 1 idea which was very good even if CMMI executed super badly. I see some people in Lean also backing and supporting this very CMMI idea, which is levels.
Are we going back to CMMI?
CMMI had levels 1 to 5. Meaning you need to improve your company as a whole from one level to the next level. IMHO the idea was super badly executed by everybody. However, if you think deeply you will see its not complete waste. Let’s consider a football player, you might consider JR, Amateur, and PRO. A-Pro player might be able to do things that an amateur or JR might not be able to do it.
IMHO CMMI’s mistake was the content and being process-driven. The issue with levels is also that it might be different from company to company so I would say is not that static. If you Look David Anderson’s approach to Lean/Kanban to enterprise it has lots of CMMI ideas on that.
If we think about an org being Agile, definitely is not a 3-month work. Lots of ideas are business agility sounds like Lean principles to me, 14 points of Deming to be more specific like (improve leadership, break silos, drive fear out, create purpose, etc..).
In some sense, I believe we are going back to CMMI. Since we might not be able to fix all problems at once we might need to go trought some multi-stage change phases. Do each phase need to last 1 year, no, hell no. Otherwise, we might be talking about some change which is very hard to drive and a problem that is too big to fix at once.
Business Agility Challenges
There are many challenges ahead. Lots of companies have politics, empire-building rather than focus on innovation and learning. Product is an area where lots of change also need to happen. Product is often a project management organization rather than being a product management organization. The product often pushes for Features and turn Tech into a Feature Factory. The product needs to stop focusing on deadlines, features, and cost and focus on Discovery and customer-centricity. Business agile is bigger than product or tech so imagine the size and the number of issues we need to go thought here.
We also need to talk about the big elephant in the room. Culture and People. It’s very hard to make some people change. I believe people can change, but not all people. Sometimes what companies do to make change happen is to fire the leadership group. Companies are struggling to apply agile at the team levels, imagine to apply at the execs level. At the same time looks like thats one of the big reasons why agile fail in the first place. So looks like talking the heart of the problem.
On thing, the agile community was always worried about was about being prescriptive. So focusing on the principles rather than tell people what to do (process). Which makes all the sense and is completely right. However, if you don’t give guidance to people you end up with abuse. Some people say thats how success looks like. Agile has been abused and people are doing it wrong because for lots of people that’s how success looks like. So how can we focus on principles and at the same time tell people how to do things because at the end of the day people need guidance. Before I explain what I think I need to elaborate on what I mean by “tell people what to do”.
I dont believe in micro-management. However, at some times the structures will not change by them-selfs and managers will not change by themselves alone. So thats what I mean by “tell what to do” which is not micromanagement, is not command and control but having a strong leadership who drives change. Leadership is both the problem and the solution that business agility needs to tackle.