What Is Agility?

What’s Agile?

Ask the purveyors and practitioners of  ‘Agile’ what ‘Agile’ is and you’ll get a scatter plot of responses with heavy clustering around ‘responding to change’, ‘individuals and interactions‘, and even ‘Scrum‘.

They’re wrong

Well… not exactly wrong but they’re missing the point and by missing the point they’re limiting what their organizations can achieve.

Now ask a different question.

What is Agility?

Ask what’s agility and you’ll end up with another scatter plot with clusters that begin to target the right things, again with ‘responding to change’ leading the pack.

Here’s my point; if leaders and individuals tasked with increasing agility within their organization don’t clearly and unambiguously understand what agility is, if they’re asking the wrong questions – how on earth can they ever hope to achieve it?  It’s like being handed the wrong specifications and expected to produce a great product.

It’s not going to happen

‘Responding to change’ isn’t a terrible definition of agility in business but it’s woefully incomplete.  If your organization has been contemplating moving into a new market in Brazil and you open your favorite morning blog to find that your leading competitor has just made a splash there with a picture of the CEO shaking the hand of Dilma Rousseff you can ‘respond to change’ all you want; you’re already screwed.  The contracts are signed.

If you’re a fighter pilot and your focus is on ‘responding to change‘ rather than hosing the other guy first, you’re going to get hosed.

‘Responding to change’ is not the primary goal – it’s an outcome of a more fundamental focus.

Agility starts with asking the right question

Agility is an organization’s ability to make and execute decisions quickly.  If success in business is predicated upon our ability to increase agility, than it’s utterly critical that we stop and understand what agility is.

To illustrate:

  • If it takes your CEO a month to make a hiring decision that’s already been vetted by the team needing that talent – you’re probably not agile
  • If key strategic decisions are being made by consensus by default – you’re probably not agile.
  • If a four hour decision takes four weeks to make because everybody is too busy to get together long enough to make it – make all the excuses you want; you’re probably not agile.
  • If there’s a key decision to be made and nobody knows who’s responsible for making it – you’re definitely not agile.

Agility in organizations is possible, but it must start with asking the right questions.

“How do we change how we operate so that we can make decisions better and faster than our competition?”

Who has a director, CIO, or CEO asking something like the above question every chance she gets?

You already know; practically nobody.

Why? Because they don’t understand what agility really is.  Agility, as I’ve defined it, is off the radar. It doesn’t exist as a separate and direct concern.

Most of my focus in this blog will be on how we can change this.  How we can create the conditions for sustainable agility in organizations.

It starts with awareness. An awareness around the goal of effective decision making. I’ll be exploring the techniques to increase decision agility and how you can personally bring those changes about within your organization.

J. Packlick

2 thoughts on “What Is Agility?

  1. Great post Jay, look forward to following you.

    I agree that Agility begins with effective decision making but it doesn’t end there. If your organization can’t effectively execute on those decisions then your not agile either. Is your blogs primary focus going to just be with step one, effective decision making?


  2. > Is your blogs primary focus going to just be with step one, effective decision making?

    A decision that doesn’t achieve a desired outcome (by not being acted upon for example) isn’t effective; at least by my definition. Whenever I say use the word ‘decision’ I mean the whole package including the action that follows from it. I focus on the decision part because usually, the outcome of a decision is a cascade of additional decisions – but that’s a topic for a future blog entry.


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