AgilityOrganizational Design

Organizational Design – The Foundation that Agility is Built on

Organizational Agility

Organizations aspire to an end state in which it has achieved holistic agility. Agility in this context is a state and used instead of agile, as the latter is an overloaded word with myriad of (hit and miss) meanings attached to it.

Through observing many organizational agile adoptions we know that organizational agility manifests in different patterns within organizations. Some start with training and coaching in IT, – IT and business, in business, portfolio or program, etc. In other instances teams decide that adaptive methods are best suited to their local context and start running things with Scrum or Kanban with no coaching or training. Success achieved here tends to quickly infect teams adjacent to the agile pilot. To obtain holistic enterprise agility, we need to have the right patterns across the sequence of activities that yield the product or service that fulfills the customer’s specific need.

Organizational agility divided into three parts

  • Demand (customer focus)

Demand is the domain in which the work originates through a customer request for product or service. The customer could be in- or external to the organization. This is where the work is originated, assessed and funding arrangements made. For true agility the organisation would need to on-board a new way of thinking about packages of work. The implication is that we move away from project work, and instead move toward long-lived teams which work on the value stream’s output. Align around what you are selling, the value. Organizations that adapt themselves and their culture to organize around value show greater agility in shorter periods of time

A strong customer focus is required in the demand part of organizational agility. The customer typically signals the start of a unique value stream.  Once the customer focus is crystal clear then define what the product is. Many organizations struggle with this very activity of defining the value that the customer will perceive and this makes teams struggle with delivering small parts of a larger solution, as nobody really understand the why. Have you ever noticed Scrum makes no mention of any of the activities that prelude the backlog?

This broad product definition activity is an integral input into the Production phase of the agility foundation. In organizations that couldn’t keep up with the digital transformation era one typically finds that 10 to 20 systems support a single product that customers care about.

  • Production

The production part of agility speaks to the place where the work gets done in terms of building the actual product. A high level product understanding as crafted in the Demand domain is the input to Production. Production needs to be effective, efficient and lean.

Agility is not just speed, but speed is a component of it. Any organization wants more from IT, more from Sales, more Retention; so we can safely say organizations wants production to increase without spending too much money.

Many organizations have only component teams, as each team enables the end solution to the customer. E.g. aircraft manufacturing, Burger King, Banking.

Manufacturing hangover behavior such as command-and-control, push systems is still a reality in many organizations. Leaders that have hopes for this hangover to be cured are certainly stuck in another era.

Teams operating in organisations that adapted to include more agility require autonomy, empowerment and have to be self-organizing. With autonomy we need to provide some guardrails as too much autonomy can cause havoc. Teams that experience high performance through autonomy tend to hold each other accountable.

In a domain where autonomy is part of the culture it is fact that there you need less managers. Autonomy requires you to create a safe space for creativity, innovation, engagement, and a general sense of ‘fail fast, learn fast’. Innovative solutions result from such environments as opposed to compliance as per a command and control culture. A real mental mind-shift is required, one which you can subtly start by introducing a new, more casual dress policy. Changing the way you manage your organization is like a political or religious change – it’s huge.

As agile practitioners we should be breaking current mental models and replace them with new ones, ones that catalyses agility within us.

  • Delivery

Think of delivery in the setting where you order from Amazon. You are typically so excited about your package that you select Amazon Prime delivery. So you want the product as soon as humanly possible. This is exactly what your customer is experiencing too. How is your organization delivering on that standard?

A DevSecOps culture is part of the Delivery process, you cannot set this aside for someone else to do. Building quality into everything you do means that the entire chain of activities that are required to do something to get the product to the customer has to flow like a well-oiled machine. Therefore, kill the hand-offs and localize these skills within the teams.

Eliminate risk in the Delivery foundation by having a culture of continuous deploy-and-test in production, fast and often. Remember to test your product/ service once it’s in production. Only then can success be measured. Potentially shippable product has never moved any significant needles.