Learn the 7 elements that make agility robust

By Jaco Viljoen, principal consultant at IndigoCube

Many large enterprises that seek agility, particularly as part of their digital transformation, fail. Most don’t properly understand what agility in their current context is and therefore never find or never develop a viable roadmap of how to achieve it. Many also mistakenly think they can adopt one or another agile methodology and when it’s deployed they can tick the box.

Agility is a capability not a methodology deployed to the software developers, nor a project rolled out to business users. It’s not DevOps or Design Thinking, or Product Management or the User Experience.

It is, however, five levels of capability, called digital business ecosystems, with each layered successively upon the next. And digital business ecosystem contains at least seven clusters of capability that we can use to measure the overall enterprise agile capability.

The five layers are:

  1. Waterfall/traditional
  2. Hybrid agile
  3. Regular delivery
  4. Continuous delivery
  5. Continuous exploration

Moving from one layer to the next offers the enterprise rewards related to speed, quality, and value. Our organisation can only progress form one level to the next once it has satisfied the clusters of capability of its current level.

The seven clusters I have identified so far, are:

  1. Business agility mindset
  2. Collaboration
  3. Flow/lifecycle
  4. Delivery
  5. Adaptation
  6. Value
  7. Continuous improvement

So we can use the clusters of capability to determine where we are on the five layers and use them again to develop a plan of how to progress from one layer to the next until we can finally say we have a strong agile capability.

It is a lot simpler to achieve these capabilities in bite-sized chunks. However, achieving it at scale is another matter entirely. We could be drawn into using frameworks, with one guru after another suggesting they have the silver bullet. But that’s not necessarily true.

While many of the frameworks are genuinely useful tools they must be applied appropriately to the context of the specific enterprise. Some organisations and their people will prefer more prescriptive frameworks. The Spotify method will hardly function in those environments. Others, by contrast, will excel under the far looser Spotify model. Each framework will also offer other advantages, such as Disciplined Agile’s (DA) release management strategies, but again, success will depend on the organisational context.

You can rationalise the complexity of your agile journey by plugging your clusters of agile capability into the enterprise agility matrix. And you can more easily select the right framework, methodologies, and approaches appropriate to your business to greatly improve your odds of successfully achieving agility. And you will have the pointers you’ll have to keep an eye on if you want to maintain that agile capability.

I’ve written an article for Cutter Business Technology Journal that goes into far greater depth on this complex topic but, even so, still only scratches the surface. The topic demands a quality book but in the interim contact me if you want to know more about how to successfully make your business agile.