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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.

The agile mindset – how you think

An agile mindset underpins our capability to be truly agile in what we do and deliver. It’s a way of thinking that is nimble, open to all possibilities, learning and new ways. It evolves and adapts to meet ambiguity and challenge in a fast changing environment. An agile-minded person explores possibilities with intense curiosity. It’s what we know as a growth and learning mindset.

Agile behaviours – how you act

Agile behaviours at a team, and individual level, can be broadly described as ones that rely on collaboration, transparency, honesty, willing to work outside their area of expertise, adaptable and open to feedback so they can continuously improve their practices.

The behaviours are underpinned by the mindset, with all team members modelling agile thinking. They are comfortable adopting collaborative practices such as working out loud, enterprise social networking and visual management.

In principle and definition, an Agile team is a self-organised one; a group of motivated and proactive individuals who have the authority to make decisions, and don’t wait for their leader to assign work.

Agile practices – what you do and deliver

The practice is the application that brings the agile mindset, behaviours and Agile software development approaches together. Agile practices work best when the team members demonstrate agile behaviours and thinking. Of course, you don’t need to be working on a project that’s officially declared ‘Agile’ to apply and reap the benefits of Agile/Scrum practices such as Kanban and stand-up meetings.

To be agile is a mindset and a skill set.

So what, now what?

In adopting different approaches, we don’t want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We can apply agile approaches, behaviours and thinking in any setting, to any change initiative, regardless of the change framework or approach already in place.

In a disruptive business environment, we’ll find ourselves in agile projects, or partially agile ones that are labelled as ‘hybrid’. Either way, there is a compelling need to demonstrate agility in our mindset, behaviours and practice. It’s time to make sense of what it really means, and identify what change leaders and practitioners can do to create and support an agile environment.

This is a very brief overview of what’s covered in my workshops and book coming out in July 2017 - Hacking for Agile Change. The book will feature over 50 approaches to hack your mindset, your behaviours and your practice, with consideration to the human response to change and disruption.

The two-day Hacking for Agile Change workshops are run on-site, at your organisation.

To find out more about what I do, check out more on this website and follow me on Twitter @LenaEmelyRoss.

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