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10 common myths about enterprise agility

Agility is a hot topic, but you have to separate fact from fiction. In this post, we dispel 10 common myths about enterprise agility.
The drawbacks of agility
Woulter Aghina

Delivers large-scale performance and health transformations, improving performance, changing culture, boosting organizational agility, improving organizational design, and building leadership and frontline capabilities

Leads our work globally on organisation for players in the energy industry, and supports companies across sectors on enterprise-wide agile transformations.

Generates significant improvements in clients’ application-development efforts through use of lean and other management techniques

Shail Thaker

Leads McKinsey’s Northern European hub of the Pharmaceuticals & Medical Products Practice and the firm’s global healthcare organisation and enterprise agility work

Agility is not simply a software team incorporating agile methods or a management team supporting faster product delivery. Enterprise agility is about the distinct qualities that allow organizations to respond rapidly to changes in internal and external environments without losing momentum or vision.

It's a new way of working and a new mindset, but it doesn't mean there are no plans, no governance and no documentation along the way. Misconceptions about enterprise agility can be prevalent throughout an organization, creating barriers to the quick responses to disruptive global market conditions that agility offers.

Since agility isn't always intuitive, it pays to avoid these myths and dig into reality:

  1. Myth: Agility is hype.

    Reality: Agility is a proven concept here to stay. Its ability to unlock value has been pressure-tested in different industries and has been codified into playbooks and best practices in agile principles.

  2. Myth: Agility is only for IT or product development.

    Reality: Agile transformation can start with an enterprise-wide perspective. Still, the value of agile models will be greater in some parts of the organization than others. Think carefully about which parts will benefit most, because it requires significant effort to apply an agile model.

  3. Myth: Agility is a best practice for everyone, everywhere.

    Reality: It should not be applied blindly. Teams should identify and analyze the problems to fix, then assess whether agility is the right answer. It should be a solution rather than a starting point or an end.

  4. Myth: Agility is applied in the same way across the entire organization.

    Reality: Different parts of the organization benefit from agility in varying ways. Blueprinting – identifying the value streams and how each can benefit from agility – proves a valuable step in any transformation.

  5. Myth: Agility is simply scrum applied at scale.

    Reality: Agility isn't the same as scrum, which is only one of the dynamic agile models that emphasizes team collaboration and flexible reassessment of plans.

  6. Myth: Scaling agility is done by adding more agile teams and pilots.

    Reality: Scaling agility requires more than just additional pilot projects. Organizations must also rewire core processes, develop new capabilities and leadership mindsets, and build a stable backbone for supporting dynamic practices.

  7. Myth: Agility is chaotic – it sacrifices reliability and predictability for a more dynamic organization.

    Reality: Enterprise agility combines stability and dynamism. Scaling the dynamic practices of agility can be done only when supported by a stable backbone that prevents mayhem in a constantly changing organization.

  8. Myth: Agility is mostly about productivity.

    Reality: Speed and adaptability are actually the primary benefits. While faster speed, flexibility and improved employee engagement usually boost output, agility's true value is creating a position of strength, not fixing broken productivity. Agility also helps attract talent and improve organization health, among other benefits.

  9. Myth: A "Big Bang" transformation that changes everything at once is risky.

    Reality: The risks and merits of "Big Bang" and step-wise approaches depend on the situation. Some situations, such as regulated or complex environments, require iterative step-changes since sweeping change without prior testing puts too much at risk. In other situations, large top-down interventions to reset the entire organization can address the challenge of managing interfaces between agile and non-agile operations, among other benefits.

  10. Myth: Agile transformations can be done in six months.

    Reality: They take 1-3 years. The initial benefits appear quickly in areas that adopt agile foundations and pilots. But scaling to full enterprise-wide agility takes several years, and agile practices continue to evolve over time.

Myth-busting is always beneficial, but it’s especially valuable when it applies to enterprise agility – a complex and often disruptive transformation that requires thoughtful consideration, not complications triggered by misconceptions.

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