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What Is Agility?

In my last post, I gave some examples of the difference between Implementing Agile and Transforming to Agility. But like the term “Agile”, agility is an often overloaded term that means different things to different people.

When I talk about agility to clients, the conversation focuses on the agility of the business, which is different than, “we’re delivering what the business is asking us in an agile way”. Organizational agility goes far beyond the team and encompasses several different areas:

  • At the business level, the executive team is thinking about gaining capabilities by focusing on smaller increments of work that can be done in less than a quarter. The entire portfolio is sequenced to fund initiatives that take advantage of market opportunities, meet regulatory needs, and move the business forward across divisions and teams.
  • This means that specific skills are needed throughout the lifecycle, so managers focus on growing skill sets and getting the right people available at the right time by building teams or working with vendors. One specific change here is how job descriptions are written and performance reviews are implemented to focus on collaboration instead of solely on individual contribution.
  • At the team level, all of the things we’re used to still apply: good development practices, iterative delivery of work, high visibility in short cycles, integration of design, testing, development, analysis, etc. If teams are producing large, stinky piles of poo, they’ll either sabotage the efforts above, or end up being replaced.

  • At the technical level, the view becomes about technical capabilities across the portfolio, and how business needs either innovate or reuse these capabilities. This includes strategic architecture, systems evolution (and retirement!) and organizational adoption and change towards DevOps, Microservices, Mobile-First strategies, etc.

Woven throughout this is the principles of Lean Thinking – how quickly and smoothly things flow through the cycle, how we visualize bottlenecks, and how we continually learn and improve.

Amazing things happen just by gaining agility at the team level, or scaling the team level. But a business firing on all of these cylinders is an amazing thing to watch.