The Importance of Being Agile

These days, it’s tough to get through a workday without hearing the word “agility” uttered by someone, somewhere in the enterprise. The pressure to move faster and smarter seems relentless. You could say it defines digital business.

But, in reality, the need for agility has always existed. Businesses have advanced from scratches in the sand to the abacus and onto adding machines, calculators and computers in order to operate faster and gain a competitive advantage. The difference today is that generations of change unwind in weeks or months rather than decades or centuries.

Amid this backdrop, it’s important to recognize that initiatives such as Agile Development and DevOps are simply attempts to operate in a more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic way. Smaller organizations do these things naturally. People walk down the hall or IM a colleague with a question and move forward in a moment.

Larger organizations, however, get bogged down in layers of approvals, hand-offs and seemingly endless meetings. They sink under their own weight.

To be sure, becoming agile requires a lot more than bold edicts and great strategies. It requires more than nifty collaboration and communication tools that connect a far-flung enterprise.

Agile development is all about loosening controls and giving developers and others an opportunity to think more creativity. It’s about operating in a more iterative way and constantly adapting, adjusting and pivoting based on changes in the market.

More than anything else, it’s about getting rid of the safety nets and CYA memos.

Of course, changing organizational dynamics isn’t easy. In some cases, it’s as difficult as reversing the direction of an ocean liner or supertanker.

As Walter Sun, principal in the product innovation and development management practice at PwC puts it: “Agile requires transformation. It requires a re-examination of just about everything relating to organizational dynamics. You can’t just use a plain-vanilla agile methodology. It’s necessary to adapt practices to address an organization’s needs.”

Change management is at the center of the equation. It’s critical to get people to think and act differently—particularly middle managers who grew up with an old-school mentality.

No less crucial: IT teams and developers must understand the business and technology in deeper and broader ways than in the past. There’s no manual; there’s no guidebook or map. It’s just learn and adapt as you go.

These are the new rules for today’s digital enterprise.