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Agility: From Buzzword To Business Model

Despite being a widely used term in business circles, many still miss out on its true meaning and purpose

19Aug

The business world has its own jargon, with new buzzwords appearing each year like clockwork. Some people add them to their vocabulary to show off during networking events, others treat them seriously, analyzing the meaning and later applying them to their business strategy. One such term is agility, which originated in 2001 in the ' Manifesto for Agile Software Development'. It was quickly picked up by business strategists who defined it as the ’ability of a business to rapidly respond to a change by adapting its initial stable configuration.'

The main problem with 'trendy business terms' is that often they sound good but are difficult to define and apply to real-world business strategies. If you ask someone in the C-suite how one of their business goals has been achieved, it is very likely that agility would pop up in the answer. The disruptive business environment we live in certainly requires faster reactions and greater adaptability than ever before, but is agility really all it takes to achieve success?

To get to the core of what agility means, it's worth deconstructing the term. If agility means adaptability, then in order to achieve adaptability there must be speed involved. In business, markets are changing faster, so businesses have to adapt and be fast themselves. It's important to bear in mind, though, that agility in decision making is no excuse not to think. Actions that may result in an immediate profit or short-term improvement in business performance can negatively affect a long-term business strategy.

On the other hand, there is a belief that if a company is not a disruptor, then it will be disrupted by someone else. And that's where the meaning of agility can be regained. Disruption doesn't come by accident, especially in a large company, and can be achieved if all internal processes are orientated for disruption. Unlike SMEs and startups, which can pivot and seek alternative strategies at any time, large organizations can damage their entire value chain if they rush. Therefore, step by step - but quickly enough to reach the market - large organizations must inject agility into all of their units.

Having agility ingrained in corporate culture is what makes it work for business, but there must be a balance struck between empowering teams with 'agile spirit' and maintaining control. The main challenge is delivering disruptive ideas fast, retaining the security, and quality of execution with minimal costs. It's useful to look at the ways daily tasks are completed and processes performed, and then build cross-functional teams that can form the core of delivering agility. Training and specific coaching is the key to ensuring new skills are acquired easily and there is a natural flow of ideas and best practices that serve company strategy.

If agility stays on PowerPoint slides and doesn't go further than discussions, then it's likely to remain a meaningless buzzword, but once the results of agile practices involving balanced approaches are measurable then a company can say that 'agility truly contributes to our success and we can show you how'. 

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