Agility has become a popular buzzword in executive circles, whether it refers to the practice of agile project management or simply being able to respond to problems and changes more effectively. Every leader wants their organization to be agile. Few leaders actually know how to make this happen.
By reviewing what it means to be agile and how to increase agility, you can take steps to effectively manage the agility in your teams and across your company. With these steps, your company will be better prepared for any challenges in your industry that lie ahead.
CEOs Think Their Companies Are More Agile Than They Are
At the very least, taking steps to measure agility within your organization can help leaders get a realistic view of how prepared for change teams are and the impact the company has on the overall industry. This is essential, as multiple studies prove that CEOs think their companies are more agile and disruptive than they actually are.
Kevin Oakes, founder of The Institute for Corporate Productivity, a human capital research firm, shared some interesting data of a CEO’s perspective of agility. Almost three-quarters of 1,300 CEOs surveyed said they want their organization to be a disruptor in its industry. Meanwhile, only nine percent of employees (out of 1,824 surveyed) thought their company’s approach to change was that of a disruptor.
This data shows the significant alignment challenges between what senior leadership wants and what employees on the ground see. Someone might think their team is advanced and agile, when the reality is that most employees feel like the company (or their department) is getting left behind.
“Organizations that are not embracing the concept of business agility will find that they do not have the capability or capacity to be nimble or flexible to technology or market changes,” Gerald Leonard, agile PM specialist and speaker, writes. “They will find themselves left behind as more agile organizations are able to pivot and adjust.”
The business world is moving faster than ever, and the companies that succeed will be willing to plan ahead, but also make changes as demand and industry trends evolve.
Common Mistakes When Measuring Agility
There are several reasons why companies experience such a disconnect between their desired agility levels and their actual agile ability. One of the biggest problems is with data. Many companies try to measure agility but look at the wrong metrics or look at the right metrics at the wrong time or in the wrong way. As you start to analyze your agility levels, keep these data challenges in mind.
Focusing on Processes Over Products
While agile metrics are valuable, it’s easy to get so consumed with data and process measurement that companies no longer see the forest for the trees. For example, a company might call a project a success because a product was built faster with fewer errors, but not fully evaluate whether the customer is happy with the end result or even whether the product was truly needed.
“To ensure agile success, companies must keep their eye on essential business outcomes, rather than be caught up in process metrics that create a sense of false success,” Surya Panditi, member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Agile Governance, writes. “By doing so, organizations are not only being built to change, they are also being positioned to last.”
Improving processes is valuable, but not if you get so focused on production that you lose sight of the big picture.
Studying Vanity Metrics
Everyone wants to see a report that validates their hard work and makes them look good. However, these data points won’t help your company actually improve. Belinda Waldock, agile business coach and author of “Being Agile in Business,” encourages teams to choose sanity metrics over vanity metrics.
Vanity metrics make the team look good, even if they have no meaning. At worst, they cover up serious problems and mislead decision makers.
Sanity metrics, on the other hand, show what the company is doing well and where it needs to improve. Sanity metrics provide red flags and early warning signs. The right metrics can help you analyze your processes and agility without putting your leadership team in a panic.
Analyzing Lagging Indicators
Business leaders should focus on leading indicators, rather than lagging numbers, writes Sara Saddington at Actionable Consultants. It may be tempting to look at data after a project is complete as part of a post-mortem, but that process likely won’t save a project when your team is in the weeds.
She uses the example of turnover rates and end-of-year reviews. If a company only gets that data annually, they can’t identify and prevent a problem early on.
The whole concept of agile management is that improvements happen throughout the production process. It defeats the purpose to look at your processes in retrospect with lagging indicators.
Trying to Define Agility
There is no common definition for business agility, and that’s a good thing, says Evan Leybourn, founder of the Business Agility Institute and author of “Directing the Agile Organisation.” Agility is a moving target; trying to define it actually defeats its purpose.
“Instead, I want you to start thinking of business agility as the common thread,” he suggests. “An adaptable and sustainable narrative that binds and guides, rather than directs, us into the uncertain future.”
If leaders want to accurately track the agility of their companies, they need to change their goal. Instead of reaching a specific target, they need to approach the idea with the goal of constant improvement. Christian Reed, agile coach at consulting firm Cambria Solutions, encourages leaders to act like systems thinkers.
“The principles of systems thinking enables awareness that there are no perfect solutions; but choices made do impact other parts of the system,” he explains.
5 Ways to Measure the Agility of Your Company
There are plenty of tools on the web that you can use to measure agility in your organization or the adoption of agile practices. In the same way that agile project management looks different in each company, the tools you use to measure your success will likely be varied. Below are five of our favorite options to track your agile success and implementation of new programs.
Track Your Agile Fluency™ Progress
Diana Larsen and James Shore developed the Agile Fluency Project, “with the goal that every team should work at the level of fluency that best fits their business’ needs.” They provide training and resources with the understanding that few businesses can use a one-size-fits-all approach. Not every company needs IBM-level agile expertise and infrastructure; however, many could benefit from adopting a more agile operations process.
Interestingly, even the top companies that you would expect to be agile masters still use at least some traditional systems. In an article for the Harvard Business Review on implementing agile at scale, Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, and Andy Noble acknowledge that expanding the number of agile teams and the reach of agile project management is an important part of development. They also note that “not every function needs to be organized into agile teams; indeed, agile methods aren’t well suited to some activities.”
Even brands known for being cutting-edge and hyper agile, such as Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Tesla, and SpaceX have traditional elements. Implementing agile is about finding what works for your operations.
Gamify Your Agile Improvements
The goal with most agile tools is to make the concept seem less intimidating and more approachable. Agility Scales with their Mind Settlers platform does just that: They have managed to gamify the agile workplace. Teams can follow adventures and take actions to learn about their processes or solve problems together. They boast more than 365 new players and five thousand actions taken so far.
Use the Top Metrics Available
If you are ready to dive into the metrics of agile evaluation, look no further than Leon Tranter’s ultimate guide. Tranter starts by defining the principles of agile metrics and how you should use them, and then explains each metric, how it is used, and what it is not — which is just as important as what it is for many organizations. This is a guide that you will want to save and return.
Additionally, the team at SeaLights shared their guide with 10 metrics that you can use to test agility within your teams. They review concepts including cycle time, failed deployments and age velocity, which you can test within your organizational analysis.
Review Your Scrum Performance
Agile and lean coach Henrik Kniberg created a scrum checklist available 20 languages. He has a link to the original so professionals can translate it into other languages and he can keep sharing his process.
Kniberg is explicit in how he wants this checklist to be used. It’s not a set of hard rules, but meant to serve as a guide for agile teams to review their process. If part of the checklist doesn’t work for a team, then it’s okay to move on without it or revisit that step later.
Develop Your Own Measurement Process
That said, you don’t necessarily need to use pre-packaged evaluation process to track your agility. With a little creativity, you can build your own.
Stephanie Ockerman shares insights into how she looks at agile team performance and tries to find room for improvement. In her five-step guide, the professional scrum trainer and scrum master covers topics such as moving beyond low-hanging fruit to address real issues and constantly inspecting and adapting processes to make them better. This is a great place to start if you want to measure the agility of your company but think you’re overlooking a few key metrics.
Turn Your Agility Analysis Into Real Change
Once you are clearly able to evaluate the agility of your organization, you can begin to implement lasting changes that improve how your teams work together. “Gaining agility is not that easy,” notes professional scrum trainer Mehmet Yitmen. “In order to gain agility, existing company structures and, more importantly, the culture and working methods should be changed from scratch.”
Whether your teams have a fear of change or just lack the resources and understanding to be more agile, you can use your analysis to implement better agile processes and prepare your company for whatever lies ahead.
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