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September 1, 2017

Agile: How to increase your company’s metabolism

Fleur Bamber from CA Technologies details the five key steps to consider when looking to make an 'agile' transformation.

By Ellie Burns

‘Agility’ has been presented as a cure for many corporate ills, including overcoming organisational rigidity. Many ‘rigid’ organisations continue to use 20th century systems that are top-down command-and-control, with burdensome processes of governance and tooling that reinforce compliance over creativity and enablement. Some businesses also begin to ‘do Agile’ and ‘embrace agility’ without a clear consensus on the true definition of this approach, or how it can help a company succeed in today’s fast-paced world.


Not another  buzzword?

Let us face it. Agility has become a buzzword, following the likes of ‘synergy’. I, for one, do not mind whether Agile is referred to in a capital-A way. What I do care about is applying lean concepts such as ‘inspect and adapt’, ‘limit work-in-process’ and ‘eliminate waste’. I care about better leveraging today’s best practices in product development to accelerate market responsiveness, by increasing something I call ‘organisational metabolism’.

What is organisational metabolism? In nature, it is the chemical process that occurs in living organisms by which they convert food into energy whilst eliminating waste. In business, this translates to the system that converts assets – including money, people, and time – into customer value, ideally while minimising senseless cost (e.g. bureaucracy).


Working smarter

Existing practices of simply working harder than the competition will not cut it. We face a new reality where customers expect continuous updates and innovations to what they want and need – particularly regarding anything digitally-enabled.

In order to keep pace and push ahead of the pack, organisations must shed their sluggish metabolism in favor of fleet-footed 21st century business, to deliver value fast. They can do this by developing the people, processes and tools that increase metabolism within their companies. Overlooking this new way of working will see companies miss market opportunities whilst competitors race ahead, leaving customers open to explore alternative solutions.

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For organisations keen to embrace a new way of working, here are five key steps to consider that will help inspire a truly healthy, agile transformation:

Agile: How to increase your company’s metabolism

1. Maintain a clear and aspirational vision

Having clearly-defined outcomes – both for your business and in your company’s agile transformation — is vital, because an agile mentality means being comfortable with change. While tasks and tactics will shift, the ultimate vision should remain intact.

Every company is different, but needs to have a vivid picture of its overall purpose and a desired outcome. Ask yourself: What is the outcome I care about, and what am I actually asking people to go and do? A clear vision will help guide the practices that need to be implemented as changes in the external market and internal operations fluctuate.


2. Consider culture

To attract and retain the best people, you must create an environment in which they can thrive. A decent environment is one in which the employee population is motivated, empowered and follows best practices that deliver value. Leaders should consider: How am I helping my front line? They are the listening posts – the people engaging with customers. Empowering the front line makes it easier for organisations to sense and adapt to change.

‘Top-down’ organisations are slowly becoming the dinosaurs, and organisations that adopt cultural change that empowers the front line and provides productive feedback loops will be the ones that succeed. Moreover, leaders must lead by example. Too often, leaders expect their employees to implement agile practices without changing their own behaviour.


3. Rethink processes

Many business processes and systems used today were created decades ago, under a guise of automating standard business processes. However, these standard business processes were built on adaptations of high-volume manufacturing of physical items. As companies improve their organisational metabolism, leaders must rethink any processes and systems are carried forward from the 20th century that may not support the faster responses required today.

Today’s workplace not only needs process for governance and compliance, but also that for people and enablement – acknowledging the way people live and work today.


4. Use the best tools

The right tools can amplify leadership and vision, removing friction that all-too-often hinders transformation. Tools reinforce good processes and behaviours, quantify desired outcomes and support the team in making the correct adjustments. Even the most millennial company in the world suffers slow metabolism if it uses antiquated tools and systems. Whether a software development platform, internal employee time-management system, or new collaboration app, modern tools should reduce overall workload, not create more of it.


5. Be open to failure – learn and adapt

Employees should not feel like they will lose their jobs if they take a smart risk and fail. This should be obvious, but actually is not for most companies. Some level of failure is inevitable when the culture, processes and structures of an organisation are fundamentally changing.

This is part and parcel of innovation. Calculated risks should be encouraged in modern companies. The important thing is to learn from any mistakes and become smarter. ‘Testing and learning’, not ‘perfection’, should be the new mantra.


21st century business

Increasing organisational metabolism requires enough discipline to examine the entire system, much the way a professional athlete continuously hones what they eat, how they train, the goals they set, and the attitude they invoke to become world class.

Athletes do not ‘run in place’ – they continuously seek improvements and actively train, implementing practices that will see them first past the finish line. Similarly, companies must constantly strive to improve. Transformation is a challenging yet vital step for any company wishing to become, and continue to be, a success in today’s market. While it is not always easy, when companies, teams and individuals put in the effort, they will be in a far better position to compete and deliver for customers.

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