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Dr Živa Veingerl Čič: Agile Transformation

12. november 2020
For decades, managers have been trying to create agile and adaptable companies in answer to the endeavours of being one step ahead of the competition. As years go by, this struggle is growing in intensity. However, their daily reality is slow processes and innovation standstills.

New business realities require new management and governance approaches and methods. The desire for greater efficiency is the main reason behind introducing agile methodologies, while a significant reason is also the desire for enhancing the ability to manage changing priorities, which are a constant in the VUCA* world (CorpoHub). In the economy, the pandemic, as a metaphor for the VUCA* world, has clearly shown us how vulnerable we are and how quickly otherwise healthy companies can find themselves faced with an unstable situation. When predicting a successful future, we must focus on the question whether companies can become more resistant to the crisis and more adaptable. 

A few years ago, experts doubted whether the concept of agile can be transferred from the IT sector to other parts of organisations. Today, this is evident in numerous examples. The best known is the automotive industry, which lately banks on mobile workplaces. The employees no longer have a fixed desk, as this is said to encourage cooperation in a flexible team and facilitate communication. Teams are mixed and interdepartmental. The experience of companies, which have introduced agile transformation, show that it can take place in all departments, as old work methods cannot achieve new results. Every organisation can become agile, even if not always to the same extent.

What do enterprises need for agile transformation?

The most important is the support of the management, appropriate communication, and the shaping of agile teams that change as required, self-manage, and react with a great measure of flexibility. We must not forget that if companies want agile transformation, they need their employees to have an agile mindset.

Focusing on managers (despite the many hesitations) is a rather frequent strategy of agile transformation, especially in larger and renowned enterprises. The experience of companies, which have successfully introduced agile transformation, shows that such transformations are successful only if employees are included. Their agile thinking is really important, as we can claim that being agile is, first and foremost, the mindset of companies. People with an agile mindset are dedicated to continuous learning and surrounded by people who help them advance and be better. Employees in agile organisations focus on gaining new knowledge and skills and their managers strive to improve the work environment, are open to feedback by their colleagues, and are better mentors. People with an agile mindset believe that they can develop and upgrade their talent and skills with learning, persistence, and passion. In an agile transformation environment, we must provide a work environment, support to employees, and trust the employees to do their job well.

An agile work environment is characterised by an organic organisational structure, which represents teamwork, a high level of communication, and a low level of formalisation and standardisation. 

The common basis of agile transformation comprises four elements (Pforzheim University, 2019):

  • Delighting costumers,
  • Descaling work,
  • Enterprise-wide agility, and
  • Nurturing culture.

Agile transformation often starts in teams or in fields where agile work promises to be especially successful. When introducing agile transformation in a company, we need to consider how to productively handle the cooperation of agile and non-agile units. In terms of descaling work, major and complex issues must be broken down into small partial tasks, which are performed interactively, in short cycles, in autonomous and interdisciplinary teams. Here, fast feedback from customers and end-users is very helpful. Nurturing agile culture requires a never-ending commitment, strengthening of the entrepreneurial mindset and behaviour. Let us mention the enterprise-wide agility. This approach speaks in favour of the notion that an agile entrepreneurial mindset can develop only if the whole enterprise is included. Companies should not function following the top-down hierarchy but should set up an interactive network. Experience shows that interdisciplinary and autonomous teams are successful if the whole organisation changes its structures towards being agile. If this doesn’t happen, the agile mindset and transformation are difficult to achieve.

It will not always be possible to implement agile across the entire organisation. However, agile can be implemented in an organisation as a pilot project. A potential weakness of such an approach is that agile work is not sufficiently recognised in the company and the usefulness of the transformation remains minimal. Working on pilot projects, it is therefore important to include other parts of the organisation, e.g. through transparency and information. Self-organised teams and agile leadership, flexible work methods, and mobile and spatial work descaling allow companies to weather any crisis. However, development at organisational level can only be successful if it takes place simultaneously with learning at an individual and personal level.

*VUCA is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity

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