I was approached to speak at a startup event for a local Business Agility Institute user group here in the Raleigh/Durham area. I was quite pleased to be approached and am more than willing to present an agile topic to the group. 

But the request made me think…

I’ve been engaged in agile approaches for nearly twenty years. So, I have quite a lot of experience with the core methods, practices, scaling, agile leadership, cultures, etc. But what the heck is “Business Agility” and what sorts of topics would that group be interested in?

The answer escaped me and I realized I had to do some research.

Basic Definitions

Here’s what CA (Rally Software) had to say regarding a definition and 3 key aspects:

A company’s way to sense and respond to change proactively and with confidence to deliver business value—faster than the competition—as a matter of everyday business.

1.     It’s making the customer the central focus of your organization

2.     It’s driving value faster, better, and more efficiently

3.     It’s transforming how your business operates to achieve successful outcomes

Here’s another definition from the Agile Alliance:

Business agility is the ability of an organization to sense changes internally or externally and respond accordingly in order to deliver value to its customers.

Business agility is not a specific methodology or even a general framework. It’s a description of how an organization operates through embodying a specific type of growth mindset that is very similar to the agile mindset often described by members of the agile software development community. The nature of that mindset is described in the Values and Principles section.

And finally, here’s a definition from the Business Agility Institute

Change, both technological and cultural, is occurring faster than ever before. In this climate, modern enterprises will live or die on their ability to quickly adapt. As a result, companies are turning to agile for ideas to innovate, reduce costs, and remain relevant in a changing market.

Business agility embraces change. Business agility changes how you think, how you work and the way you interact with people. This change is crucial at every level of the organization, from the operations floor to the C-Suite.

Observations from Angela Wick

Angela Wick attended the Business Agility conference in 2017 and wrote a blog post that contained the following eleven “key dialogs” that occurred during the conference. 

I think they’re insightful around the core of Business Agility.

  1. Agility helps all parts of the organization adapt

  2. Business agility is a bridge to IT

  3. Agile culture maximizes results

  4. Agility yields more value with less work

  5. Transformation requires a compass, not a map

  6. Agile has governances, budgeting, and planning too

  7. It’s about hearts and minds

  8. Leverage change, instead of trying to control it

  9. Cozy up to your customers

  10. Agility asks us to focus on the future

  11. It’s a scientific approach 

You can easily see how Business Agility conversations align with agile software development principles and focus points. However, one key difference is that Business Agility takes a more organization-wide approach or purview.

For example, the emerging focus on AgileHR is less aligned with Scrum, but much more aligned with Business Agility.

Stephen Denning

During an InfoQ video Steve Denning presented his three laws or keys to sustaining business agility. They are:

  1. The law of the Customer (common Goal)

  2. The law of the Small Team (small everything: cycles, batches, value-delivered, etc.)

  3. The law of the Network (not hierarchy)

He also talks about agile how requires a mindset (not tools, not frameworks, not processes, not workflows, etc.)

The laws reflect the essence of this mindset.

Ok, that’s nice, but what does Business Agility mean to me?

In some ways, I think of business agility in the same way I reacted to and came to understand DevOps.

I think it’s misunderstood.

It’s also largely being used to generate revenue (certifications, coaching, conferences, etc.) around the concept. Which often just increases the confusion and complexity.

From my perspective, the theme that comes out of the above references is that.

First, Business Agility directly connects to all of the things that the agile software development movement aspires to. Back to the basic business drivers and the principles from the Agile Manifesto.

So, it’s not a separate thing. Instead, it’s an aspect of the agile continuum. Just as Lean is and DevOps is. At least to my way of thinking.

Second, I think Stephen “nailed it”. Forget the three laws for the time being. He started off his video talking about MINDSET. Not only do I think agile is about mindset, but Business Agility is about mindset.

Then, mapping in the three laws, with a focus on nimbleness and agility he brought in customer, small teams, and non-hierarchical systems.

And this mindset isn’t simply within the IT organization or the software product development organization. It’s across the entire company.

For example, that’s why AgileHR is so interesting in how it plays into supporting and growing your Business Agility.

Wrapping Up

I presented a topic to our local Business Agility group entitled: Applying Shu-Ha-Ri to Agile Leadership. It’s a talk I once did years ago for the Agile conference. Perhaps around 2010. But I updated it and thought about its relevancy for Business Agility and Organizational change.

Here's a link to the video.

I think it’s still quite relevant for today’s cultures and how to help leaders recognize their current state and help them guide change. I like the “business agility” movement as an extension to our agile transformation efforts. And I’m excited to see where things might go…

Stay agile my friends,