The Agile Business Manifesto

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In our book on Building the Agile Business we set out a new organisational operating model for the digital world. Our belief is that many businesses needs a fundamental reorientation to be fit-for-purpose for the rapidly changing contexts in which they now exist. We’ve called this the Agile Business Manifesto, and have laid out a set of principles for greater organisational agility, inspired by the conventions of the agile manifesto that was written over fifteen years ago. We’ve brought our principles together with those that inspired them, in one presentation:

The agile manifesto revolutionised the way in which software was built. We think it’s time to create a new kind of business.

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How Change Management is Changing

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One of the key overarching themes in our book on organisational agility is that digital transformation is far from being the linear process with a beginning, middle and an end that many take it to be. The trajectory instead should be towards creating a new type of organisation that is in itself designed around continuous change and the ability to respond to rapidly changing contexts. In that sense the process of change management never ends. More than ever we are in the business of continuously managing change.

Traditional approaches to change management have long followed fixed, linear approaches that take little account of how the environment in which we operate has itself fundamentally shifted. So our very approach to how we manage change also needs to change in some fundamental ways:

  • The balance between vision and iteration:- achieving a new level of organisational agility requires continuous iteration and adaptation but we also need a compelling vision and an understood organising direction. This means that one of the key questions we have to answer is what is fixed and what is flexible. We need to establish the parameters to understand what needs to change rapidly, and what might change far more slowly. And beyond this, to understand how feedback from faster iteration can inform the slower-changing strategy
  • Barriers to organisational change:– removing blockers and barriers to change was previously seen as one part in a multi-step process. Now, continuously shifting contexts mean that the barriers to moving fast are themselves always changing and emergent, so we need to work consistently and unceasingly at overcoming them
  • Parallel, not linear:- one of the most famous models for change management is John Kotter’s 8 steps. In the late 90s when he first described this linear approach, Kotter was setting out what is essentially the waterfall version of change management. Yet, as I talk about a lot in the book, rapidly shifting contexts require far more adaptive approaches, and that includes how we empower change. Interestingly, in his 2014 book Accelerate, Kotter updated his thinking in response to the perceived need to accelerate the change process itself. One of the elements that he talks about is the need to shift from this strictly linear approach to one in which we are enabling change to happen on multiple fronts and where we are in effect running the stages concurrently and continuously
  • Fluid, not fixed:- just as planning needs to be constantly adaptive, so the very process of change management should be subject to continuous review and the application of learning as the process unfolds. Many companies may think that they are doing this but in reality few build in the opportunity for regular retrospectives and reflection, and enable enough fluidity for the process itself to be adaptive. I liked how Jason Fried described how they treat their company like a product, constantly iterating and improving. So just as the organisation itself is changing, so does the process of change.
  • Open, not closed:- traditional efforts in change management tend to be inwardly facing, focused on the internal structures, cost-savings, efficiency drivers. All of which may well be relevant. But cost-savings and efficiences in themselves do not create a new organisation. Large companies become very inward facing over time and yet in the digital world the exact opposite is what is required. A focus on creating a truly networked organisation (through technology, data and people) creates greater opportunity. Ecosystem is a horrible word but it really is about understanding all sides of the ecosystem (customers, employees, partners, suppliers) in which you exist and the most beneficial connections that you can create. The other side of openness of-course is about transparency in transformation. GDS really did set the bar high in publicly documenting the activity associated with the transformation of services, and their ongoing performance. The government is not a business of-course, but I do think that the value of secrecy in these things is often overplayed and that there is huge value (not least in attracting talent) in demonstrating what you’ve achieved and what a great place the business is (or is becoming). As can be seen from the Coop digital blog (created, unsurprisingly, largely by the old GDS team). So a rebalance, and a new approach is needed.
  • Experience, over efficiency:- I believe that the over-arching focus on customer experience which is shaping so much organisational strategy right now can be a powerful driver for change. Truly re-orienting the organisation around the customer means fundamental change for many businesses. Yet alongside the customer experience we need to focus on reorienting employee experience. This is the human side of digital transformation. Without this it cannot succeed. Employees that are intrinsically motivated towards achieving a new vision are a powerful enabler for change
  • More leadership, less management:- that word ‘manage’. It really is quite unhelpful. It suggests that we can always be in complete control of the process. That the whole thing is top down. The shifts I’m describing may feel slightly chaotic but then I think the reality of true change is that it is always slightly chaotic. And that’s why ‘lead’ is a better word than ‘manage’. In Accelerate Kotter talks about a larger ‘volunteer army’ serving as the change engine, and there’s something really powerful about employees who want the change being the ones who drive the change. And there’s something equally powerful about a visionary leader with a compelling vision that people who want change really want to follow.

So many businesses are undergoing significant amounts of change right now. Digital Transformation might have become a buzz-word but it is a reality in many organisations. So it is important that we acknowledge alongside the need to create a new type of organisation that is fit-for-purpose for the digitally-empowered world in which we now operate, that the principles and process of change management itself also need to change.

For exclusive content related to the upcoming book on Building the Agile Business, you can sign up here.

The Human Side of Digital Transformation

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‘Digital is 10% tech and 90% human. Organisations talk about digital as if it is 90% tech and 10% human.’ Lucia Adams

There’s lots to like in this short but apposite post from Lucia Adams on the love/hate relationship we often have with digital transformation. I particularly liked the quote above, which neatly captures a theme we talk about quite a lot in the book – how often the technology focus in digital transformation is overplayed, and the all important cultural and human aspects of change underplayed.

As Lucia goes on to say, we are experiencing a fundamental re-design of so much of what we think we know, and so digital is far more than technical expertise and channels. Far more than marketing and customer service. It is instead (to use her words), about the organisational system and how we think, act and collaborate’. To respond appropriately to the challenges and opportunities that this new world creates we need to re-design . This starts with developing a common language around digital, and what digital really means for the business. So many companies fail to do this well and yet (as Lucia rightly says), since digital means different things to different people, the failure to do this leads to misalignment and misunderstandings right from the outset.

Bravo.

For exclusive content related to the upcoming book on Building the Agile Business, you can sign up here.

Welcome to Building the Agile Business

By AgileBusiness, Digital Disruption, Organisational Structure, Strategy No Comments

agile-business-small

Welcome to Building the Agile Business. This blog and site have been created to support the book from Neil Perkin and Peter Abraham. We’ve been writing and consulting on organisational agility and digital transformation for over six years and this has been a real labour of love for us. We have long believed that there is plenty of material out there on the ‘why’ of digital transformation, but very little on the ‘how’. So that’s what our book is all about.

We believe that companies need to fundamentally change the way in which they are operating in order to be truly fit for purpose for the digitally empowered world in which we all now exist. So we have set out a manifesto for a new type of business. In the same way that the Agile Manifesto described a new way of building software over a decade ago, The Agile Business Manifesto captures some of the key themes of our book and sets out a new operating model for organisational agility.

We see this not only as the publishing of a book but as the start of a conversation about what is surely one of the key business challenges of the day. Between now and the publication date we’ll be posting content relevant to the ideas and themes that we explore in the book and encouraging discussion around some of the concepts, models and arguments.

And we’ve created an email list which we’ll be using to give access to exclusive content, occasional updates and relevant thinking related to the book (no spamming – it will likely be a monthly update). Subscribers will also get preferential access and offers at the launch. So do sign up for that here.

We look forward to some good discussion on the ideas that we’ve brought together.