Agile organizations: Steps to developing agility

by Dr. Glen Jones

Here’s how agile organizations excel at developing agility. With the rapid changes that are occurring in the world today, businesses must be able to respond quickly. This has created a need for organizations to improve their agility and their ability to adapt swiftly. For example, in most markets, product development must now take place significantly more quickly in order to stay ahead of the competition. Even more traditional businesses are experiencing the need to respond in a more agile manner to their competition or changes in the business environment. How can we create or improve agility within an organization?

For this, I believe we need to look at agile organizations. For example, we can look at sports teams, the military, or first responders. How do they respond quickly to changes that are presented to them? There are several commonalities between these organizations that help to develop agility: a focus on the fundamentals, situational awareness, and good planning.

First, they focus on the fundamentals of their purpose. This is a lean approach to viewing their business. Not only do they concentrate their focus on those core activities, but they also document them and practice them repeatedly. Reduced to its essentials, the military has the fundamental goal of “taking the hill.” This requires soldiers to be able to shoot rapidly and accurately, be able to move quickly in an organized manner to new cover, and to communicate efficiently and accurately. Soldiers practice in-field rapid repair of their weapons and shoot many rounds at targets to gain proficiency. They repeatedly drill together to ensure they are organized and practice communication.

Secondly, these organizations build situational awareness. Football players are aware of their competition, where the ball is on the field, and observing the opponent in front of them. During each play, every player must be aware of their teammates and the opposing players and respond accordingly to gain an advantage. To illustrate, the running back has to watch his linemen and the opposing players to find the small hole that sometimes opens up, and attempt to run through it. With the other players responding to what they see, the situation is always changing.

Third, these organizations are good at planning and planning quickly. Firefighters plan how they will set up the pump and ladder trucks, and an organized plan to sweep the structure. They organize the scene based on the need to pump water onto the fire, given the layout and wind direction. Ladder trucks are positioned to be able to reach the upper floors. Depending on the location of the fire and the layout of the structure, the firefighters identify points of entry and organize the sweep of firefighters through the structure to find victims.

how organizations are developing agility


In business, agility is formed the same way. First is the focus on the fundamentals. It is important to strip away the non-value-added processes and procedures that encumber the productive organization. Most organizations have an abundance of these processes that can be stripped away. The fundamental processes should be carefully documented to ensure they are done efficiently and effectively every time. There should be significant training and reminders around these activities, as they drive your business.

Situational awareness is developed with the practice of performing the fundamentals in real-life situations. To become situationally aware, you need to look at both the internal and external things that can impact your progression towards your goal or the fundamental processes you perform. Internally, you need to identify the influencers that can improve or hinder performance. They can be people, a variable part of the process, equipment failures, or something else. Each can be monitored and corrected when it is observed. Externally, the things to watch for are customers, vendors, competitors, or even the legal environment. Again, these are observable. Observation brings situational awareness.

Good planning involves identifying the goal and how you plan to achieve it. It includes a review of the many possibilities that could happen after the game starts for your organization. Planning should focus on the major possibilities based on your observations and experience while ensuring risk management through planning for contingencies. You cannot plan for everything, but with sound fundamentals and having reviewed many of the possibilities; you will have prepared yourself to make quick changes to the plans. You have already thought through the most likely or most critical changes that you may have to make. With this background covered, you can react more swiftly as you observe your business venture progress.

I cannot stress how important it is to be situationally aware in order to create agility. After the fundamentals are practiced and the plans are made, the rest is responding to your environment. Observe, monitor, and anticipate. As you practice these skills, your organization will develop agility and be ready to adapt rapidly to the ever-changing environment.


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