Just after turn of the millennium, a small group of software developers gathered to write the “The Agile Manifesto” calling for a new approach to software development that would be iterative, collaborative, and responsive. Agile took hold in some of the most innovative companies of our time, from Amazon and Netflix to Facebook and Google. The agile approach enabled these companies to build better systems faster than their competitors, and win market share and customers.
In recent years, it’s become clear that companies established before the Internet and competing in an increasingly disruptive business environment also would need to adopt agile methods. However, agile magic is not simply confined to software delivery. Yes, agile development capabilities are necessary for digital transformations. But they cannot exist in a vacuum or technology silo.
For businesses to become operationally agile, they must adopt its principles in all that they do, beginning with their leadership. The reason: Agile is more than a delivery model; it is a mindset. Agile leaders enable a way of working that encourages ongoing innovation and empowers organizations to achieve what we call “enterprise agility,” allowing them to reassess the core of their businesses – their products, service offerings, and business processes – by building, testing, failing, learning, and adapting at the speed of modern business.
To embrace agile across the enterprise, leaders should focus on three dimensions of transformation.
1. Strategy formulation
A key step in enterprise agility is outlining a company’s strategy: what it seeks to accomplish through innovation and how. Developing such a strategy demands executives who are aligned, engaged, and committed to agility and innovation. They must communicate consistent messages about enterprise goals, why they matter, and how each employee contributes to them. Enterprise agility also requires strong governance: distributing responsibility, creating accountability, and ensuring transparency. By measuring the effectiveness of ongoing activities against a continually updated list of strategic goals (often a balanced scorecard system is most effective) a company can focus on efforts that will create a robust pipeline of innovation.
2. Cultural transformation
For many companies, an agile transformation will require shifts in values, beliefs, mindsets, and behaviors at all levels of the organization. Leaders can jumpstart this transformation by giving their employees the motivation, training, and tools to make it reality. They must reward creativity and discourage status-quo thinking. They will create an entrepreneurial environment and expand their sources of new ideas. They should also develop competencies in agile enterprise techniques, including:
Empowered teams that can develop minimally viable products and services to test with customers, learn from, and improve;
Systems thinking, which focuses on how the parts of systems interrelate and how all constituent systems impact each other;
Design thinking, an idea-generation and problem-solving approach that begins with human behavior and needs.
3. Focused experimentation
The goal of the agile enterprise is to improve everything, everywhere, in an on-going fashion. The process should be ideate-and-experiment, monetize, and repeat. Leaders must set up a system for vetting new ideas, testing and improving them with feedback from customers, and implementing and scaling them. One approach we have seen work is the Rapid Iterative Experimentation Process (RIEP), whereby a company creates a system to evaluate incoming ideas by applying criteria consistent with its strategic goals, builds a portfolio of ideas that balances risk and opportunity, performs experiments to determine which ideas are best suited for market introduction, and rapidly brings the best into production.
As digital competitors continue to race ahead, established companies must empower their employees by building an agile foundation for the future.
About the author(s)
Dave Jordan is Vice President & Global Head, Consulting & Services Integration at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In this role, Dave leads a team focused on the strategic journey of leading enterprises as they transform and grow their businesses. Through his leadership, the team strategically consults clients navigating disruptive technologies and enables enterprises on their path to Business 4.0 success.
Dave partners with C-Suite leaders on business and technology strategies in areas such as M&A, supply chain, finance transformation and customer experience while driving agility across these enterprises. He helps clients deliver transformative change, leveraging digital technologies to create and implement new business models, as well as launch new products and services to support these new models. Dave has supported the largest, mission-critical programs for marquee clients like DuPont, General Motors and Pepsi International.
Dave has over 25 years of experience as a strategic advisor to global companies. Prior to TCS, Dave has held leadership roles and extensive experience with other consulting organizations like Accenture, PwC/IBM, CSC and Booz-Allen & Hamilton.
Dave currently resides in the Washington D.C. metro area with wife Barbara and has two daughters Jenny and Katie. Outside of work, Dave will be found on the tennis courts and boardrooms of various education reform initiatives.