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Agile organizations - six steps on the way to your agile transformation

Hardly a management conference goes by without also talking about the necessity of agile transformation. An agile organization is one of the essential cornerstones and a strong competitive advantage in digital markets.

In this article I explain what distinguishes agile organizations and how this knowledge can inspire your agile transformation.

Definition of agile companies

Agilis (Latin) = agile, agile, nimble

Agile companies are able to adjust their organization and their business model to new market requirements in a short period of time. In addition, agile organizations are proactive and proactive in seizing opportunities that arise. Agility in a company is the right mix of “doing agile” (methods) and “being agile” (mindset).

In the course of the digital transformation, agility is a necessary management and organizational principle in order to be successful in digital markets. The agile transformation is becoming an essential cornerstone of a successful digital transformation.

Agility> flexibility

I often experience that agility and flexibility are confused. If you are agile, you are also flexible. However, you are not agile just because you are flexible. Being flexible means dealing successfully with unexpected tasks. You may also adjust your general procedure based on this experience in order to avoid similar surprises in the future. In static systems, however, these changes are coordinated centrally. And the larger your organization, the longer this adjustment will take. An agile organization, on the other hand, aligns itself to these new requirements even without central control and proactively seizes new opportunities even without central coordination.

Six characteristics of agile companies

Agile companies have their own DNA. It is difficult to attribute their success to individual measures or methods. Rather, their success is based on six pillars:

  1. Giving meaning
  2. Customer focus
  3. Agile leadership (re) thought
  4. Agile methods
  5. Continuous improvement - Inspect and Adapt
  6. Culture and Mindset

Agile organizations know their purpose

In contrast, traditional companies very often define themselves by the WHAT and the provision of their services. For agile organizations, however, the product is only a means to an end, in order to serve the higher sense. They are on a mission to change the world. This higher sense defines the context in which personal responsibility and agile work can flourish at all. To find and define the higher meaning of your company, for example, the Why-How-What model by Simon Sinek or the Jobs-to-be-done method are suitable. Both models offer you a perspective on what your company should stand for.

Agile companies define the customer as a partner

No useful improvement was ever invented at a desk.

Taiichi Ohno

In agile organizations, the customer is part of the value chain and not just the last link in the chain. Requirements are formulated in user stories, value creation based on the customer and along his customer journey, instead of from the inside out. A nice symbolism for the position of the customer is to give him a free chair in every meeting. As a silent permanent reminder of what it is actually about.

This form of customer focus also means that the customer is actively involved in the development of services and products. At an early stage, the customer receives prototypes and minimally functional products in order to provide feedback based on them. Based on this feedback and its needs, agile organizations are constantly developing their offerings. In this way, agile companies gain a high degree of clarity at an early stage as to what customers really value about their offer and which performance aspects they do not have to pursue further.

Agile leadership (re) thought

If you are worried that agile transformation is the preliminary stage to anarchy and chaos, then I can reassure you. Agility needs leadership. In an agile context, leadership is based on the servant leader approach. Leadership is uncompromisingly geared towards the interests of those being led. As a manager, this means letting go, resisting the impulse to steer or even control yourself. And to endure it when employees are not that fast or go their own way. As an agile manager, your most important task is to define the framework in which your employees move autonomously and in a self-organized manner. You create an environment that is characterized by a high degree of autonomy of your teams and at the same time by a common view of higher goals.

Agile methods provide security

Agile organizations rely on a large number of tried and tested agile tools and process models. These methods help teams and organizations to structure their cooperation, identify customer needs, seize opportunities and deal with complex framework conditions. Agile methods offer a clear set of rules, a common language and a high level of process reliability. They are the stabilizer in dynamic and unsafe environments. Examples of agile methods are the Scrum Framework, Design Thinking or Lean Startup.

“Inspect and Adapt” - permanent change as part of the system

Agile organizations check their status and progress regularly and at short intervals. “Inspect and Adapt” is an integral part of the framework in the Scrum method or SAFe. This Pulscheck is used to look at what has been achieved so far and to incorporate the knowledge gained into the next iteration loop. This concerns both the content orientation and review of the progress made, as well as the cooperation of the team. The feedback from customers, stakeholders and within the team offers the opportunity to make necessary adjustments or to formulate new assumptions. Two important “Inspect and Adapt” formats are reviews and retrospectives.

Culture and Mindset

The final cornerstone is perhaps the most difficult, but it is also the most powerful. The mindset of every single employee is the biggest brake or accelerator on the way through your agile transformation. In agile companies, cooperation is shaped by the belief that every colleague always acts with the best of intentions and gives their best. There is a high level of commitment and clarity in your own roles and in your own contribution to achieving the common goals. Mistakes are part of a learning process; dealing with one another is characterized by trust, respect and transparency. Being agile, following agile values ​​and principles often contradicts our professional socialization or the prevailing culture in your company. However, with your attitude and attitude you have the chance to be part of the agile transformation every day.

Agile Transformation - How does your company develop into an agile organization?

Agile is the best kept management secret on the world.

Stephen Dennings

How does your company succeed in the agile transformation? In my eyes there is only one answer: get started. Not the entire team overnight. But following the agile mindset in short and permanent iteration loops.

So that the agile cold start succeeds a few suggestions and empirical values:

  1. Why?

    Finds a clear answer to the question for what. What are the reasons for your agile transformation? What real problems does agility solve outside of platitudes like VUCA. And what does agility mean to you?

  2. mission

    Defines a higher meaning for your company: What does the customer appreciate about you? What is your company's mission? What is your company doing on the market?

  3. Identifies teams / projects

    Find teams and projects with which you can try out agile work and where you can grow agile. It is important that you define a framework that enables agile project implementation. Release the teams in an agile project implementation

  4. Adaptation - Inspect and adapt

    Regularly organizes reviews and retrospectives. Take a look together at what results you have achieved. In the retrospectives you will discuss in detail which learnings and adjustments you can still make on the way to an agile organization. The agile transformation itself follows an agile process.

With the jump into the deep end, you will quickly notice where agility and your current culture collide.

Agile companies - three examples of agile organizations

Spotify has publicly documented its Spotify engineering culture and is a great example of an agile organization. In this post you will find a summary of the “Spotify Model”.

The company sipgate in Düsseldorf is perhaps a little closer to many than Spotify. Sipgate works very closely to the Scrum method and, like Spotify, is organized as a “Team of Teams”. Sipgate offers open doors, which is a great opportunity to get to know an agile organization up close. The open doors, like the special “custom” company events, are highly recommended. Especially if you want to show colleagues and executives how it can be done. Instead of just slamming slides with buzzwords and a lot of VUCA.

Finally, another example from the manufacturing industry. Morningstar, California-based tomato processing company with 400 employees generates sales of USD 700 million. The company has abolished management and relies on self-organized teams. The special thing about it. Every employee has a contract with all colleagues that regulates what they promise to one another. An approach also known as “promise based management”. More about leadership culture and work at Morningstar.

Conclusion - agility as a real competitive advantage

In global and networked markets, the half-life of competitive advantages is falling. An agile organization is the chance for your company to build a universal competitive advantage. You are more attractive to modern knowledge workers, you increase speed, efficiency and willingness to innovate and your employees love their jobs. The agile transformation will thus become one of the key success drivers of your digital transformation. And as you have seen, the beginning is not that difficult. You are the key And you can start with it tomorrow.

I wish you a lot of joy.

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