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Apac CIO Outlook | Wednesday, May 18, 2022
In the current business climate, it often feels as though every CIO is asking the same question: ‘Now that I have Agile Teams in my organization, when will I start reaping the benefits of Business Agility?’
To a certain extent, such a query is understandable. We’ve been promised faster times to market but haven’t all seen these yet. Told to measure ‘Business Value’, but not how to define it. Primed to expect higher returns on investment, reductions in cost, competitive advantages, diminished risk, and increased levels of team happiness and staff retention – not all of which have materialized.
At the same time, it often feels as though there’s too much work to do when everyone’s already at capacity. Plus, there are those ever-present concerns around losing valuable talent in a hot market.
Having the right ecosystem in place
It’s important to recognize that simply having Agile Teams doesn't by itself make an organization agile. Rather, several components go into making a workplace so.
For a start, an organization needs to have–and to nurture –a culture that promotes a learning mindset at all levels and that provides time, budget, and support for continual innovation and improvement. This ensures a trajectory of improvement and excellence in the ong run for the organization, and mastery for its people.
In addition, workplaces should be seeking to optimize their entire value streams, arranging these around the flow of business and customer value. This removes silos, and hence reduces waste, handoffs, dependencies, and delays.
A strategy must also be linked to execution through practices such as Lean Portfolio Management so that organizations are investing valuable time and money into work that is in alignment with achieving long-term vision and goals.
Finally, Work In Progress (WIP) limits should be set at the enterprise level, and work prioritized accordingly, as this leads to increased throughput and reduced cycle times.
More a journey than a destination
It can be helpful to see the process of becoming agile as a journey that simultaneously runs from the bottom-up, top-down, and through the middle.
Naturally, leadership from the top is integral to supporting any new initiative–and this goes for Agilefriendly ways of working too. To give one example, our CEO demonstrates leadership agility by holding daily stand-ups meetings with a Kanban board. This not only increases organizational transparency but enables him to focus on value and business alignment, keep abreast of potential risks, and unblock impediments facing our organization.
Focusing on the outcome and alignment to strategy rather than just getting the job done from a wider business perspective has been important. To achieve this at AIA we have been working on the increased visibility of our work directly mapping back to our strategic plan. We are focusing on measures that matter, and most importantly the outcome. This has involved changing our language. For example, from “what have you done” to “have we achieved the outcome” and “how can I help”. Further, our leaders are working with their teams on creating an environment of test and learn, with fast feedback loops, rather than waiting to the end of delivery so we are continually ensuring that the outcome that is delivered aligns directly back to what the customer desires.
For agile to be successful it requires a multidisciplinary team and people understanding their role in that team. To support this, we have changed some of our roles to include Scrum Masters and Product Owners, providing intense training and coaching. This is enabling us to: - change the way we plan, collaborate, work and deliver - better understand our customers and stakeholders - prioritize our work more effectively - be more iterative in delivering features to our customers, and - develop regular feedback loops for continuous improvement.
Initiatives we’ve introduced at AIA to date include:
- Our PMOs are implementing Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) – this has helped us to visualize, align, and optimize the value we deliver to our customers and maximize the value of our investments.
- Providing learning, development, and upskilling opportunities to our people – for instance, training our team members up to be senior leaders has resulted in increased happiness, confidence, and self-mastery within our teams, encouraging a positive growth mindset among our employees and giving them the confidence to take on more challenging and innovative work.
- Reducing 80-page Project Initiation Approval documents to two-page Lean Business Cases.
- Bringing on people who have experience implementing LPM and business agility. Our hand-picked coaches bring a wealth of experience from various frameworks, helping us build fit-for-purpose models through the selection of the best frameworks and experiences. This includes coaches and servant leaders who share growth and knowledge-sharing mindset with a passion for helping entities across the business achieve personal and team mastery, which is key to building an organization that’s open-minded, hungry for learning, and ready to take on challenges.
“An Organisation Needs To Have—And To Nurture—A Culture That Promotes A Learning Mindset At All Levels And That Provides Time, Budget And Support For Continual Innovation And Improvement”
Small steps together
Much like digital transformation or the process of transitioning to Google Cloud, business agility should be seen as a long-term strategic objective; a continually evolving journey that helps organizations adapt to the uncertain, shifting, complex times in which we live. Real business agility is the ability of a business to be fluid; to react to market and internal pressures as smoothly, quickly, sustainably, and consistently as possible, while continuing to deliver high value to the business and the customer.
And yet, achieving true business agility is more than a matter of using Agile. As a business, our objective isn’t to build services and products–it’s to deliver business and customer value. And that entails working collaboratively to take small steps in pursuit of big results.
To effectively learn, invest and evolve in a fastmoving environment, we must be prepared to not think of Business Agility as a project with a start and end date. We should instead consider Business Agility to be a systemic approach towards constructing a dynamic and organic structural backbone that we then continually work to extend and strengthen.