Drawing on the latest thinking from the Future of Work (FOW), agile, neuroscience and Human Centred Design (HCD).

Defining agile as an organisational capability

It’s not every day I have the luxury to sit down with a cup of coffee to look through the Australian Financial Review. But today I’m glad I did!

On AFR’s front page, ANZ announced its plans to ‘blow up bureaucracy’ with agile practices. And I was happy to see the planned approach considers all aspects of agile and how it transforms the way we work, lead and engage with others.

This is timely music to my ears as I’m finalising my book and am facilitating workshops on Hacking for Agile Change, where I explain agile as an organisational capability. In these sessions, the participants find the conversation about Agile Big A and agile little a helpful - this will be more on this in a follow-up post.

Making sense of agile

In workshops I’ve run over the last year, I’ve learned that agile, as a word, can mean different things to project and change people, at times also confusing them.

We know the word is used almost everywhere! Recruiters are asking for agile experience because employers want agile people. Organisations want to be agile. Agile is interpreted as many things and needs to be defined so we can understand it better.

Defining agile as a capability demystifies the word and helps us understand what it actually means for organisations, teams and individuals. Agility, or agile, is not a methodology; it’s a mindset, along with set of behaviours and practices.

In my soon to be released book, I use this pyramid diagram to explain the layers of agile as a capability:

The fourth layer, at the base, is organisational agility. For an organisation to become agile, it needs people who are agile in their thinking, their actions and in their practices.

Let’s take a closer look at the layers:

Organisational agility

An agile organisation is one that is responsive to external forces, is adaptive, delivers services and products to customers faster, thinks outside the box, and eliminates waste to improve effectiveness. Wow, this is sounding like a change-ready organisation! For organisations to achieve this, the starting point is usually to recruit coaches and scrum masters who have experience in Agile software and product development.

These agile projects and practices alone will not make the organisation agile; it also needs people, inside and outside projects, across all parts of the business, with the right mindset and behaviours. Agile project approaches will help, but will not achieve organisational agility without capability in mindset, behaviours and practice.

And, of course to embed agility into the organisational culture, the leaders need to model and reward the behaviours they want to see, recruit the right people, and gather and retell success stories.