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Scaling up organizational agility


by Aaron De Smet

Once you have succeeded with several pilot projects for becoming agile and have a strong foundation in place it’s time to scale agility across the enterprise. And if you obtain a fraction of the value that the most successful pilots have delivered, your organization will be champing at the bit to go big.

The final set of six agile practices (see 18 agile practices here) – the most advanced practices that build on the foundational and agile experimentation practices – will deliver big benefits across the enterprise. These are:

  • standardized ways of working
  • open physical and virtual environment
  • active partnerships and ecosystem
  • cohesive community
  • role mobility
  • technology, systems and tools

Here what you need to know about each of them:

Developing standardized ways of working is tricky. It’s easy to do poorly, hard to do well. Our research cautions against setting too many standards before agile foundations are in place. Standard ways of working relate to creating common ways of working that make it easier to get things done, reduce friction, and enable collaboration and efficient use of time.

This involves common language and definitions, a standard set of tools, and shared working norms – not “rules” to be enforced and audited. The Green Apron Book, Starbucks’ internal references tool, is a compelling example of one of these resources because it acts as a guide rather than bureaucratic policy.

Create a network of empowered teams, reinforced by a dynamic people model that ignites passion and ingenuity. Colonel Stanley McChrystal explores this idea of a “shared consciousness” across a network of empowered, dynamic teams in his Team of Teams. He describes the formation of agile military teams in Iraq to combat a fast, nimble adversary. He notes that the entire command structure required redesigning to create the speed and flexibility necessary on the ground.

“Harnessing the capability of the entire geographically dispersed organization meant information sharing had to achieve levels of transparency” never seen before, he relates. McKinsey research similarly suggests a radical degree of transparency is necessary to truly scale agility across a large organization to see how teams and individuals perform against key objectives.

Collaboration and transparency must extend beyond the enterprise itself to customers and business partners. Creating such a collaborative network through active partnerships and a collective ecosystem for value creation requires even higher degrees of empowerment.

Why? So front-line employees can work hands-on with customers, vendors, and other partners to develop new products, services, and solutions, including flexible models of partnering with external parties.

Our research indicates this cohesion only comes from a healthy culture reinforced primarily through leadership role modeling, peer pressure, and fit-based recruitment and selection – and not through policies, rules, or command-and-control hierarchy.

Role mobility is essential. This means that your specific role on any given day and for any given team can change very quickly as priorities change and new opportunities emerge.

Typically, role mobility also requires an internal talent market to help match people with the most attractive and value-adding roles they could play. Organizations I’ve seen that created internal talent markets obtain tremendous benefits because the market often can match people and work much more effectively and efficiently than hierarchical decisions cascaded down the organization.

Getting teams to share information fast requires effective, adaptive technology, systems and tools. Big data and artificial intelligence will require agile organizations to maintain an almost unprecedented level of cross-functional collaboration between technology and digital groups and the business.

Technology must have a modular, flexible architecture to respond to fast-changing needs. It must be integrated seamlessly with key processes so that it is easy and intuitive for users.

One important note: your organization should be quite far along its journey before scaling agility across the enterprise. That’s why it’s best to have some successful pilots under your belt to help gauge the value you can attain when you do begin scaling.