Agile Ways of Working & Thinking – A Brief Introduction to Organisational Agility

06 February
(or How to Improve Work-Life and Happiness)


Modern organisations are complex and disconnected

In factories and plants, the production of value for the customer is linear. At the end of the work process, raw material resources are transformed into tangible and physical products that can be delivered to customers.

Modern knowledge-based organisations are a lot more complex. People groups, such as Product, Operations, Sales, HR, Finance, Marketing, IT, Legal and R&D, perform specific functions to produce services or products or to support the organisation. Because of inherent differences in objectives, responsibilities and processes, silos and physical divisions become a way of life.


Workplace time bomb

In this diverse and non-linear work environment, communication and coordination challenges are plenty. Internal conflicts can erupt at any time.

In fact, workplace conflicts are the norm in most organisations today. While constructive disagreements can help teams and organisations grow, destructive ones will naturally impede the flow and delivery of work and value to customers.

This negative productivity is a hallmark of an internally-focused slow-to-organise-and-react organisation.


The customer will not wait for the organisation

Alas, the technology-enabled customer is impatient and does not like to wait. They are also not short on choices. Superior products and services in the marketplace are constantly turning their heads.

In the age of consumerism and instant gratification, customers are always quick to vote with their money.

While most mature organisations are struggling with its multitude of internal processes, policies and conflicts, its nimbler and happier competitors are taking away customers by going to market early and faster to meet current demands.


Technology is not a competitive advantage

In this light and in order to "remain competitive", organisations are constantly influenced by governments, tech companies and the media to acquire more advanced and digital technologies (AI, automation, blockchain, CRMs, programmatic advertising, etc.)

The reality: In process-heavy and siloed organisations, more complexity is actually introduced into the work environment with each technology purchase. This can result in an even slower reaction time to sudden shifts in market conditions and Customer preferences.

Fun fact: All other competitors are buying new technologies too. There is no differentiation. Tech companies are laughing to the bank. It's a vicious cycle.

While revenue continues to fall due to undifferentiated and unimaginative products and services, leaders and organisations are still obligated to boost profits and increase share price at every financial quarter.

Consequently, technology buying decisions are increasingly made based on cost-reduction objectives to increase shareholders' equity. Not for productivity gains and probably not for the benefit of the customer.

Not heard from a customer ever: "Ooh, I'd love to speak to your AI chatbot!"


“The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” - Peter F. Drucker, 1974

“Customer first, employee second, shareholder third” - Jack Ma, Alibaba Group


Distractions of the corporation a.k.a. the customer disconnected organisation

  • Share price fixation
  • Hierarchy-driven ideas
  • Shiny new technologies
  • Internal KPIs driven


"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" - Albert Einstein


"84% of companies fail at digital transformation"

While employees are trained on new technical digital skills, developing internal work culture to better manage the new digital environment always takes a back seat.

Why is this so? Post-purchase, organisations primarily focus on either recouping the cost of large technology investments or monetising new capabilities.

As a result, employees continue to operate as how they always have for 100 years in Taylorist-type organisations. But with digital tools.

While the organisation's tools and capabilities are upgraded, its Operating System has not been updated.


Agile is the new OS for the modern organisation

Agile leadership, Agile mindset and Agile ways of working are operating components that can help people in organisations manage both internal complexities and the rapid-changing external customer world.

Philosophies, such as Customer Supremacy, Lean and Design Thinking, and Agile ways of working, including Kanban, Scrum and Inbound Marketing, are being adopted by large and small corporations all over the world to improve operations, increase productivity and deliver better value to customers.


Only 28% of software implementation projects are successful - The Standish Chaos Report 2000


Origin of agile

The original Agile Manifesto was created in 1999 by a group of "rebel" software development leaders frustrated at the high rate of failures in software development.

The traditional "waterfall" method of project development and management was unable to keep up with the constant customer change requests and technology improvements mid-project.

Newer ways of working, such as Scrum and XP, were created and practised to help software developers deliver better products and projects, on budget and on time.

Today, Agile ways of working have never been more relevant as software becomes more pervasive in other parts of the working organisation.


The agile mindset is more important than 'doing agile'

While experimenting and implementing Agile ways of working is highly recommended, developing the Agile mindset for the volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous world is key to agility.

The Agile mindset is a set of attitudes that will help people to thrive in a dynamic environment.

  • Respect
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Open to constant change
  • A deep sense of ownership

Focused on:

  • Delivering customer value
  • Constant improvement
  • Continuous learning

Benefits of Agile ways of working

  • Build better teams
  • Motivated and dynamic employees
  • Increased trust and mutual respect
  • Enhanced communication
  • Increased productivity and efficiencies
  • Responsive to change, adaptable to challenges
  • True customer-centricity
  • Build sustainable & growth-focused organisations


Daily anguish 1

Boss: Could you please share that report you were working on?

You: The file's in the working folder in the Cloud Drive.

Boss: Which folder? What drive?

You: The one I shared with you.

Boss: When? I didn't see it. Could you put it in a USB stick for me?


Daily anguish 2

Marketing: Hey, I sent you a really hot lead last week. Have you worked the lead yet?

Sales: What lead?

Marketing: I had sent it to you via (Marketing Automation Software) into your (CRM Software) workflow.

Sales: Hmm, I didn't see it. Sorry, I need to get back to cold calling my leads.

Ironically, compared to paper documents, our digital-enabled work is obscured in our computers, on the servers and in our minds. (And, of course, in a digital environment some may work more than others.)

What's slowing organisations down are the unseen work, hidden process bottlenecks, reduced or broken communication and ineffective capacity management.


Make knowledge work visible for continuous improvement

Agile Kanban is an increasingly adopted methodology to improve operations and quality of work in knowledge-based organisations. Originating from Toyota's lean and Just-in-Time manufacturing systems, the method uses signalling cards to manage processes and inventory.

Benefits of Agile Kanban:

  • Improve productivity and create better quality work by limiting Work-in-Progress
  • Reduce or eliminate wasteful or unnecessary work
  • Measure and make improvements to work processes through visibility and transparency
  • Make more accurate estimations of project or task completion times


Agility is the result of making continuous improvement

The Japanese call it 'Kaizen', a conscious effort at continuous improvement owned by all workers to improve workflow, processes and output.

On a factory production line, we can easily and visually inspect products for defects. Processes can also be made more efficient through continuous refinement.

In a knowledge-based digital environment, this is a lot harder to achieve without a system or deliberate effort. Too many times, "it is what it is" is a generally accepted thinking.

Did you know?

  • Only 10% of an F1 car remains the same at the end of the season.
  • A newly improved component is created every 15 mins during the racing season.


Big bang, big noise, big fails

Recent history is littered with tales of real products that failed upon market launch. These big bets cost millions of dollars in R&D spending and big bang marketing launches, yet they failed to deliver much value to the Customer or to the organisation.

Reasons, why these product bombed, include failure to truly understand Customers' present needs, working on 'visionary' product or service ideas from hierarchical top-down instructions and chasing 'perfection' to satisfy internal KPIs.


Go Lean, go evolutionary

In an uncertain world where customer preferences, technology and the environment change every single day, a newer evolutionary approach to product and service development is needed to create better just-in-time value for customers.


Scrum built this jet fighter

Because of rising costs in the world of advanced military procurements, companies are looking for a better way to control production costs while producing products at the highest quality.

For Saab, the adaptive and iterative Scrum work methodology was adopted to help develop the JAS 39E Gripen, one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world.

  • Took 50X less time to develop than the F-35
  • Cost 10X less to produce than the F-35
  • Iterative system upgrades every 6-month cycle
  • World’s most cost-effective military aircraft


Organisational agility is about increasing productivity, responsiveness and adaptability of talents by:

  • Reducing organisational complexity
  • Developing operational simplicity
  • Guided by real customers' needs, not shareholder value or internal metrics

Making organisations flow like water. Adaptive around rocks and turbulence. With motivated and focused people.


Guest post by Isman Tanuri, Elisan Partners.