All businesses will gain from agile transformation

Agile ways of working are recognized and appreciated across practically every industry. They have revolutionized much more than IT, bringing adaptability, rapidity, and certainty to teams dealing with complex challenges and workloads.

As a result, many have woken up to the reality that agile working is their most pressing business priority. In BearingPoint’s 2020 Agile Pulse survey of 372 professionals, 50% of which were managers and board members, 88% of participants considered agility to be relevant to their organization, with 98% predicting it would be relevant in the future.

2%

The proportion of respondents who thought agile organizations had no advantages in times of crisis and beyond.

Agile is now understood as much more than a way of working designed for IT. It is a means of making all business functions fit for future change in markets, customer habits, technologies and as seen in the past year, the wider business environment.

Before an organization can begin to realize these benefits, however, there must be an understanding the scale of the task ahead.

Agile transformation calls for fundamental change

For any company that wants to unleash agility to improve its performance or save it from obscurity, it is first imperative to properly consider what an agile transformation means for a business: fundamental, holistic change. 

To put this into perspective, it is helpful to use BearingPoint’s six-dimensional approach to assessing the agile maturity of an organization:

Structure

Agility should be felt across the entirety of a company’s organizational structure. This means the replacement of hierarchies and siloed teams with self-organization and cross-functionality.

There is a long way to go for many companies. BearingPoint’s Agile Pulse 2020 survey found that 65% of businesses were classically organized, 32% a combination of classic and agile, and 29% agile networks or new work organizations.

Processes 

For organizations to react flexibly to challenges, all areas of the business need processes that allow for such adaptability. That means bureaucracy and rigid processes that impede market speed should be replaced with lean, incremental processes that support fast decision-making – such as flat hierarchies, and methods of delegation.

In the 2020 Agile Pulse survey, 60% of network organizations had processes oriented towards customer benefits, compared to 33% of non-network organizations.

Culture

According to the 2020 Agile Pulse survey, a business’ greatest challenge to agile transformation was adapting the organizational culture – an issue felt by 60% of respondents.

Adapting culture to agile ways of working requires comprehensive change which does not happen overnight. Companies should move away from top-down command and control organization towards a learning and trust culture. And leaders should act as mentors and coaches, creating frameworks and conditions that support staff instead of instructing them, thereby allowing flatter management structures and a smarter, network organization.

 

The transformation towards an agile organization requires strong and united leadership and a change in the corporate culture.

Dirk Altgassen, Group CIO, Etex Information Technology

Technology

Tech is a key enabler of long-term agile transformation and should be treated as such. Centralized, rigid infrastructure must be replaced and implemented in short cycles using methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban.

This approach should be used to create modern, adaptive, and modular software architectures that have few dependencies, and thus can be altered quickly to meet changing needs.

Methods

Whereas classical organization favors waterfall architectures and projects planned and delivered over extended timespans, agile transformation requires these to be gradually replaced with agile projects and sprints.

However, new working methods should always be geared towards what best fits the business’ and employees’ ways of working, culture, and means of interaction, and be supported by constant training and development that keeps methods at the cutting edge of best practice.

Products and services

Agile transformations must always aim to benefit products and services. To do so, organizations should reorient their focus away from large-scale releases towards customer-oriented minimum viable products (MVPs), putting innovation and iterative working at the center of any product and service development.

In the Agile Pulse 2020 survey, 53% of respondents felt their company’s innovative power was weak, focused around reacting to and copying new ideas on the market, while 15% did not strive for innovation at all.

All six of these dimensions must be affected if your organization is to undergo a truly agile transformation at scale. Understandably, it is a process that can take several years to fully materialize, but there are several factors that can help speed it up and drive results.

 

 

Success hinges on understanding, support, involvement, and mindset

Shifting to Agile is not only about particular management tactics and specific tooling. It comprises new management approaches driven by market & customer objectives, different roles for managers through self-organizing teams, revised values with continuous improvement and transparency, and horizontal communication. It’s a mindset shift.

Jorge Paulo Baião. Executive Board Member & CIO, Crédito Agricola Serviços

Complete understanding 

The initial stage of agile transformations should be spent asking fundamental questions. Typically, this takes the form of a workshop focusing on:

  • Why do we need to transition to agile ways of working?
  • Where in our journey do we want to be, and after how long?
  • How will the company organize and implement the transformation?
  • Which areas of the business will be affected, and how?
  • Who will be involved in planning, and who will be affected?

Answering these questions and more will define a clear ‘why’ for the process, laying the groundwork for holistic change.

Leadership support 

In our 2020 survey, support from top management was the most important condition for enabling agile transformation success. By developing a clear ‘why’, leadership can create a sense of purpose that allows managers to understand the transformation and implement it.

Leaders should then work hard to change culture, organization, recruitment, processes – every aspect of their company – in a way that earns the buy-in of all employees. Persuading staff why they should transform how they work is important, as without endorsement and acceptance, change won’t happen.

Employee involvement

Agile transformations need to account for the needs of employees as much as possible, in a way that can seem extreme to classical organizations, but inclusion is critical. Such wholesale change can only be effective if it accounts for the challenges employees encounter, how they work most effectively, their wants, and needs – the top three in BearingPoint’s Agile Pulse 2020 survey were work-life balance, self-determined working, and job security.

To enable this, a transformation team should be set up that includes members from across the company – from leadership, working councils, affected teams, and more – so new organizational approaches are well-suited to those using them.

A new mindset

Culture is the main determinant of agile transformation success, yet at first, an organization’s group mindset can be at odds with the goals of the transformation, hampering change.

To change your culture holistically, you need to foster a new mindset. This requires encouraging new habits, driving change and exemplifying new values over an extended period.

This mindset change should also be integrated within the wider transformation, coupled with motivational influences that match employees’ main drivers.

Agile transformations should never have an end point if they are to truly keep an organization adaptive and safe from disruption, and with a new mindset in place, change can continue apace.

Our world is changing in all its dimensions more rapidly than ever before. Strategic agility is the only right way for companies to stay one step ahead of that constant change.

Benjamin Ruschin, Founder and CEO, WeAreDevelopers GmbH

 

Transitioning towards true agility is rarely simple, and because every organization is different there is no cookie-cutter approach that applies to every business. Yet, with a considered, holistic methodology, any company can reap the benefits and secure their future.

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