Organizational Agility

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Design for organizational agility means to incorporate Agile’s underlying principles and philosophy into how an organization is led and operated. However, before digging deeper into “organizational agility,” let’s first get our terms squared away.

When we use the word, “organization,” we mean it in its most generic sense: any team, of any size, of any kind, of any ownership structure, performing any role, at any station in any larger organizational hierarchy. Examples include: a company; a business unit within a company; a function within a business unit; a charity; a union; a political party; an archdiocese; a church; a national headquarters; a local chapter; a department within a function; a team within a department; an extended family; a nuclear family; a parental team; and so on.

What does it mean to be agile?

We define a product, service, process, individual or organization as being “agile” if it possesses both of these two qualities:

  • It is highly reliable, by which we mean:
    1. It never breaks (something has “broken” anytime it requires manual intervention in order to return to normal operation), or
    2. On the rare occasion when it does break, it is easy to diagnose and quick to repair.
  • It is highly adaptive to change in ways that do not jeopardize reliability.

Both qualities are required in order to qualify as “agile.” Possessing one of these qualities without the other does not work; for example, being a fast and nimble at producing junk does not qualify as “agile.”

Of course, central to the agile philosophy is the customer. Taking our cue from Kaoru Ishikawa, we define a customer as anyone who depends on your work to do theirs. Thus, “customer” includes not only external organizations and individuals, but also internal organizations and individuals — “customer” can range from another company half way around the world, to the person in the cubicle next to you.

For people in management positions, their customers are the people who work for them, be they employees (i.e., talent that you “own”) or consultants/contractors (i.e., talent that you “rent/lease”).

Again, anyone who depends on your work to do theirs is your customer.