The buzz around Business Agility

3rd August 2021

We have been writing a lot about business agility recently. It’s a subject that we feel passionately about and one that has suffered from becoming somewhat of a buzzword. Too many jump on the business agility or agile transformation bandwagon without really figuring out the root cause of the problem that they hope to fix with such a transformation.

I wonder how many consultancies have actually applied their own business agility service within their own organisation, experienced how it feels to be on the receiving end of their service, or understood, first-hand, the difficulties faced by their own staff and colleagues?

We didn’t want to be another consultancy telling others to do something that we have no personal experience of doing ourselves.

To avoid being another statistic that uses business agility as a buzzword, we have been leading a business agility continuous improvement exercise within CMC. This provides a unique opportunity to not only make CMC more adaptive but experience the journey. The result of this is that we now have a far deeper understanding of what business agility means to us here at CMC. It has taught us how we can further develop and enhance ourselves and the business agility service through empathy, knowledge and understanding.

Core to this continuous improvement is extending and transcending our knowledge beyond the core syllabus of one discipline. An example of this began with a chance encounter. My colleagues and I regularly attend and speak at external events as part of our own growth and continuous improvement. In early 2021 I attended an agile meet up webinar with Joseph Pelrine, organised through Agile Centre. During the webinar Joseph mentioned Zuzi Hajickova, a business psychology undertaking a study on psychological Safety in teams at Zurich University and said she would be interested in some organisations to speak with.

My colleague and I both jumped at the opportunity and within a couple of weeks Zuzi came to talk with us at CMC. This inspirational talk prompted a lot of conversation within CMC on Psychological Safety and inspired me to write the article on ‘Why Psychological Safety is Important to organisational success’. Zuzi was also enthused after our meeting as our perspectives had also challenged and interested her. This collaboration then led to us being fortunate enough to work directly with Joseph on the business agility topic. This collaboration has enabled me to explore and extend my thinking on business agility which will no doubt continue to evolve.

Here are three key insights that I have learnt that demonstrate how the synthesis of disparate sources of knowledge can build on one another to create something new.

Business agility is like an insurance policy – Many organisations seem to wait until they start to falter or fail before realising that their business cannot adapt to the world we now live in. Business agility isn’t a silver bullet to success; it is more of an insurance policy that you put in place so that when you are faced with unexpected change you already have the ability to respond and adapt accordingly. If you wait until you need to do it, then it is probably already too late.

Business agility isn’t just about being agile – Business agility requires a combination of skillsets on top of agile understanding and mindset. A business agility journey requires a change in culture and thus a change in behaviour across the organisation traversing hierarchies. Understanding how people respond to such a change and defining that change is the realm of business change and business analysis professionals respectively. Yet the specialisms of agile, business change and business analysis seem to be regarded as mutually exclusive of one another. There are aspects of synergy happening in that business change or business analyst professionals adopt agile along the lines of Lean change or adopting agile techniques, but I see a distinct lack of these professions working together to achieve organisational agility.

At best you have agile experts exploring change or change experts talking about agile with little depth of experience in this subject. This is more noticeable when you look at scaled agile frameworks and approaches where there is scant mention of specialist skills such as business change. I see a great opportunity to utilise these specialist skills in a way that supports the adoption of agility across organisations with a people first approach, vice a training first approach. While I agree with the idea of generalising specialist within agile teams, we need to accept we need dedicated specialists contributing in all these areas when working towards organisational agility.

Not Business agility transformation, more continuous improvement journey – Organisations use the word transformation all the time as if by adding this word the work takes on some new meaning or is more important. What would happen if we didn’t call it a business agility or agile transformation? My issue is that the word transformation assumes that there is an end to a transformation: like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. What if organisations just sought help to make them more adaptive, flexible and responsive to consumer and market needs?

In my experience as soon as something is called a transformation it evokes the fight or flight fear reactions in people. Alternatively, people wait for the fad to pass assuming that it won’t really impact them as the other transformation haven’t done so. Neither of these reactions is helpful if we actually do want to change.

We need to rethink how change is conducted. Subliminal over big bang change, organic rather than top down, continuous improvement rather than start and end. Business agility is never done.

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service”
 W. Edward Demming.

I think I can conclude by saying if you truly want to understand business agility then you need to experience it first-hand. Take the time to work and collaborate with people outside your organisation as it inspires and enables growth for both you and your organisation. If we don’t evolve our thinking on Business Agility, it will just become another fad or buzzword for transformations filled with lots of hope but empty promises.

By Lyn Girvan, Head of Business Analysis at CMC Consultancy Partnership Ltd