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Executives’ key questions about Agile

By Damian Schurtenberger

Steve. So, what’s your definition of Business Agility?

Business Agility is really creating the opportunity for success for companies, according to their vision, their strategies, their goals, where they want to get to in a very disruptive market. What that means is, you’ve got to have the ability to deliver fast and responsively. You’ve got to add on to that capability the ability to innovate your products and your services offerings in the marketplace and respond quickly to what the market needs are and what the customer demand is. And in order to do that, you have to have the organizational adaptability that enables you to shift quickly. To go to that new idea by next Monday, not by the next fiscal cycle. And the leadership behaviors and habits that create that system, that culture. Only with all of those things together are you really going to pull that lever of creating the value to our clients that I would call Business Agility.

But that sounds very different to what people refer to as agile. How come?

You know, it really is very different. Because I think agile has developed this reputation of being a process change and a governance change.

Just work differently and it’s all done.

That’s right. If you just work differently and you call yourselves differently.

Check the box we’re done.

You’ve probably heard, it’s very popular in the marketplace to say, «We’ve worked on agile for many years, now let’s adopt a Spotify Model.» Yes, ok. And then I always ask, «What does that mean?» «Oh, we’re going to call ourselves tribes and squads and everything.» And I ask, «How is that going to change the habits of your organization? How is that going to create a new mindset? An entrepreneurial mindset even, that says, I want to experiment and learn quickly and adapt in the marketplace.»

That’s a difficult topic, changing mindset.

It really is. You know, I went through two agile transformations as an employee before becoming a consultant. And I learned very quickly, well, I say very quickly, it’s when you look back, time goes by so much faster. I learned that process changes are the easy part. Getting people to let go of old behaviors and habits, that’s the hard part.

Yes, I agree. So Agile is often referred to right now as a fashion industry. Everyone wants to be agile. Every executive talks about agile or being agile or «I need an agile transformation.» So, what is your experience? You work a lot on executive level. So, what are the key questions executives have?

You know today, and it changes over time, but today, the biggest question I get from executives is: «What do we actually need to do?» You know, they hear this message from consultants, from their organization: «We want to be agile. It feels better. It’s kumbaya. It’s a much better way of working and your employees are going to be satisfied. And we don’t want to define everything upfront. And just give us some money and we’ll create value.» This doesn’t instill confidence with executives. And it shouldn’t. I know, if I were in their role, needing to make decisions with millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, or euros, that’s not going to go.

So what should I do then? If I want to convince my executive?

You know with executives, I like to start with the science. The science behind what creates product flow and what makes it stop. You know, going to very tangible examples like traffic. And saying, «No one likes to drive on a highway that is a hundred percent utilized.» Because it’s not moving. There is no flow.

But utilization is good, isn’t it?

It can be, but it is not the goal.

We thought so maybe from the past.

That’s right! In old patterns, utilization was actually a goal. Am I utilizing a hundred percent of the capacity of my organization? Don Reinertsen, in his book «Principles of Product Development Flow», he talks about that a system at a hundred percent utilization is an economic disaster. Because you’re trapping so much value in the system that is not moving.

It’s getting blocked!

That’s right. It’s getting blocked. So I go to executives and when they say, «What do I actually need to do?» I talk about you need to unblock the system. You need to create the fast lane on this highway that has stopped. You might not free up everything at first. But you need to get those important things: You need to get dedicated people. You need to create focus on those things to create flow and to get value out much more quickly.

So great to hear your passion. I know your talk is coming up on the 23rd of October at the Business Agility Day. I’m really looking forward to hear the full story behind your passion.

Absolutely. I’m looking forward to Ken Spangler (Exec. VP IT, CIO FedEx Express) even sharing his perspective as an executive in an environment where they were able to unlock some of that product flow and create that return on investment.

Very good! Thank you a lot for your time!

Thank you!