There is a very serious misconception that doing agile means being agile. Such a misconception impedes organizational attempts to pursue the part of agility. By equating being agile with doing agile, it is assumed that when agile practices and routines are undertaken using the scrum methodology, the transition from the conventional way of working to a new, better way of working is occurring.
Being led by this assumption, the tendency to upskill employees in agile practices and routines so that they begin to “do agile” overshadows the realization that doing agile does not lead to being agile over time. Hence employees learn what to but do not internalize the need to do so. They are merely doing agile, not being agile.
Being agile essentially focusses on empowering employees to harness knowledge assets to acquire and create new knowledge. The primary focus is on developing a culture of knowledge sharing that is premised on a Sense-And-Respond mindset. There is a heightened level of sensitivity of changes and the ability to respond appropriately is emphasized. Such a culture is premised on a mindset attuned towards navigating the trials and tribulations associated with turbulent business environments.
Doing agile occurs when people have been given the mandate by management to adopt scrum methodology in accordance with agile principles. They “have to” change what they do and follow strictly scrum approach based on agile practices and routines. This leads employees to believe that management knows best and they oblige blindly. The command and control mindset predominate and the culture of subservience continues albeit in a different tone. In this case, the organization may be doing agile but is not being agile.
Having a heightened state of awareness that agility essentially means developing a new way of thinking and doing is a good starting point. This awareness should be directed towards developing a desire to empower employees to seek out new innovative ideas around new problems. One effective approach used is called question storming, a session aimed at encouraging people to ask as many questions as possible to encourage them to be inquisitive. By creating an environment where being inquisitive and seeking alternative options is encouraged, more innovative ideas emerge.
How they do so in a structured and systematic way would be by adopting certain principles and practices of agility that suits them best.
When emerging problems are solved using agile practices such as updating physical planning walls for increased visibility, these practices become ingrained in the culture of the workforce. These practices serve as instruments that are used to facilitate quick decision making, encourage collaborative interaction and developing flexible processes that increases an organizations resilience. Resilience against in the face of challenges posed by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This develops over time when an environment that nurtures agility and transparency is fostered by management who willingly shed the notion that “they know best”
Over time, agile practices become the norm and this facilitates the process of harnessing knowledge assets to remain ahead of the curve. When this happens, an organization is said to be agile, not one that just does agile. This should be the primary aim and focus of organizations pursuing the path of agility.
Under pressure, a spring recoils to take the pressure as it is agile. However, a thin plastic sheet cracks as it is fragile. The consequence of what happens depends on the characteristic of the spring and the plastic sheet. The pressure applied is akin to challenges posed in this ever-turbulent environment that breeds disruptive technologies at an alarming pace. Organizations are either able to adapt to this turbulence or disintegrate due to it, depending on how agile or fragile they are.
The desire to and realization of the importance of becoming agile is predominant. How exactly does a business entity become agile and what should be done to avoid becoming fragile in the face of the relentless onslaughts of challenges being faced?
With the advent of disruptive technologies, business entities have to shift their preference to remain agile. Otherwise they become fragile and susceptible to failure. As long as they plan strategically, learn when necessary and exploit existing opportunities, they remain fragile. The degree to which these preferences shift towards scenario planning, unlearning and relearning continually as well as exploring beyond existing opportunities, they become increasingly agile.
Scenario Planning over Strategic Planning
Strategic planning involves structured consideration of internal and external issues to develop the one true ‘best way forward’. Scenario planning involves developing different scenarios and analyzing different ways of moving forward. Strategic planning is premised on a predictive approach to strategy development that assumes it is possible to predict the future. Scenario planning is premised on an adaptive approach that embraces change and incorporates this into a planning horizon.
This involves asking and seeking answers to the “what if” questions, rather than assuming all will work well once a strategic plan has been established. When business entities encourage senior management to ask “what if” questions regularly, they remain agile. Otherwise they become fragile, susceptible to the changing business terrain.
Unlearning and Relearning over Learning
As uncertainty takes center stage within the business ecosystem, the need for better understanding increases. Better understanding comes from developing accurate and deep insights of issues from many different perspectives that require unlearning previously held perspectives.
A willingness to unlearn, learn and relearn continually is required to adapt and remain agile. Acquiring knowledge only when necessary without sufficient understanding leads to fragility, especially whenever the need for new processes and systems overwhelms the capacity to develop them. Comfort zones are the enemy of growth.
Exploration over Exploitation
When the focus is in exploiting the existing business model, fragility sets in whenever the existing boundaries of exploitation are approached. Many car manufacturers in the US suffered huge losses when to the exploitation of their existing patents and intellectual property led to market fatigue and declining sales margins. Their inability to innovate and ‘explore’ led to their downfall, and the rise of Tesla Motors. Elon Musk, an ‘explorer’ in the truest sense, managed to forge a path for himself beyond the self-imposed boundaries of the auto industry, and challenged the very notion of ‘driving’, and the concept of ‘cars’. Only when faced with increased competition did the traditional car manufacturers relent and explored other possibilities, such as electric vehicles and self-autonomous vehicles.
To explore beyond the boundaries of existing expertise and capabilities requires agility and adaptability. Better mechanisms for optimizing existing knowledge assets are sought for exploration to occur. Knowledge acquisition, creation and integration on a regular basis becomes a mainstay that facilitates agility and adaptability. By exploring what lies beyond what they are doing, they remain agile.
To be agile, business entities should shift their preference towards scenario planning, unlearning and relearning and engage in exploration over exploitation. By doing so, they remain agile, otherwise, they become fragile in the face of disruptive technologies they encounter.
Dr Rumesh Kumar