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Plutora Blog - Business Intelligence, Digital Transformation, IT Governance, Software Development, Value Stream Management

A Complete Guide To the What And Why of Business Agility

Reading time 12 minutes

Business agility has become a key determinant of the modern firm’s existence. Not being agile when competing companies are coined on (what seems like) a daily basis is a sure way of running out of business. Customers are consistently looking for faster and better products. A situation that means your company has to be upgrading and delivering on a continual growth path. You can bank on the truth that when a business stops actively trying new things, they’ll fall behind their competition. On the contrary, when a company is fast at trying ideas out and innovating, they’re agile.

As you read this post, you’ll learn the basics of business agility. Expect a walk-through of the reasons why you should use the agile methodology throughout your business processes. The majority of today’s business works around or in some piece of software. You may not be a software development company, but the way programmers approach customer delight could revolutionize your company in so many ways. In a way, because you actually use software to get things done, it makes you a “software company” by some loose definition. With business agility on the agenda, you’ll gain pace toward potentially dominating your industry.

Enough about the promises. Let’s get into what business agility is before telling you how to attain it.

What Is Business Agility?

From a technical angle, business agility refers to a company’s ability to pivot in a new direction on short notice. Pivot, in this sense, doesn’t have to be a drastic change in your business model. If you’re a car dealership, you could keep selling cars. However, when it comes to adopting new processes or software, your business’s agility spells out how quickly you get ahead. Clearly, the point here is that good software makes an already good business better. All in all, your business needs to have the muscle to keep up with changes in the market.

Agility as a Means To Stay Relevant

Just as agility refers to a person’s ability to move quickly, the same applies to all businesses as though they were human entities. When it gets hot, you find a way to cool yourself down. Sometimes this happens as an involuntary reaction to a stimulus. Other times this is a well-thought-out plan to either get into the shade or build some. With today’s fast-changing business landscape, being able to build a new way of doing things would be more beneficial than the analogy of finding shade.

For the purpose of this post, you can imagine business agility as your company’s control over the information that goes around. This is because control over such an asset eventually determines your company’s ability to act on said information. You wouldn’t be acting toward a goal that came from thin air, but rather one that you’re sure from historical data to be beneficial to every stakeholder. A company with ample business agility is poised for any changes that need to be effected in order to stay relevant.

The fact that you’re even considering business agility among the tools for progress is a sign that you’re going the right direction. It’s perhaps the most important skill you’ll need on the way toward reaching total customer delight.

Why Does Agility Matter?

Say you find yourself in an uncomfortable business environment. As an analogy, let’s pretend you’re in quicksand, and your way out of the uncomfortable business environment would be akin to dragging yourself out of said quicksand. The strength of the rope that gets you out would be your level of agility. Without this rope, you (your business) wouldn’t exist any longer. Dark as it may sound, your company is already in such a situation. It matters that your company has agility and optimization on its mind collectively. The alternative is the horde of companies you’ll find when you look up “failed but good ideas” on any search engine.

The market is in a constant state of change. New software applications pop up on various app stores regularly. Your business is always getting competition from what’s now a global pool, all fighting for a piece of your earnings. Without business agility, you’ll have a tough time staying profitable. This hard-to-swallow pill has been shoved down every company’s throat since the invention of the internet. Not that you could’ve gotten by without some agility before then, but it’s gotten really hard ever since. It used to be that your competition was across the block. Not they can be halfway across the world, and there could be more of them than you’d care to count. It’s only because of your company’s ability to innovate, optimize, and think outside the box that you can survive in such an environment.

Advantages of Focusing on Agility

While your competition’s progress is solely left to their means, you, on the other hand, should focus on being agile in most (if not all) of your business activities. So many advantages come to mind for you to start thinking about being agile as a business. However, five specific advantages stick out. As you read through the list below, it would help to imagine how your company would improve if they activated them from within.

1. A New Age of Management

When agile business process handling is properly implemented, chances that fresh ideas pop up are higher than with older (orthodox) management methodologies. Many companies will fall into the category that already assumes agility. Just because your developers or some internal process is handled with agility doesn’t make your organization agile. It goes beyond how a single business process is run. To be an agile company, yours would have to have a top-to-bottom business agility mindset.

Business agility is a feat much tougher to appreciate as the size of an organization increases. Particularly because management teams will have so many layers between them and the actual business bringing in the revenue. This way, even when the product development teams are thinking and working within an agile frame of mind, few others are. Let alone do they know the benefits of doing so.

When management joins in the agile way of thinking, the age (yes, like experience) of key decision-makers matters less than the impact they actually have. With the younger crop of management comes an eagerness to go off course when it has to be done to save the company. Not to say there’s anything wrong with hiring based on age and experience. But there’s a reason why Silicon Valley has so much success and yet is run by millennials.

2. Competitive Edge

Taking agile development from the software development angle, one benefit you reap almost immediately after the implementation of an agile framework is competitiveness. It becomes clearer what needs to be accomplished by a team in order to complete a project. Also clear is who needs to do each task. However, you get to add resources to situations that need more attention. Using such a mindset in the context of the entire business, you achieve much more because every employee is optimally utilized.

Competition with companies that aren’t agile allows you to make turns before hitting the proverbial wall ahead. The fast-thinking manner correlated with an agile business allows you to put your efforts into the work that puts customers first. Quickly learning what’s trending in the market and adding it to your product is one such practice an agile company does. Usually in a fast-paced manner. It matters because your customer would otherwise search for alternatives just so they stay delighted.

3. First To Market Advantage

Instead of stiffly staying on course with a single project or product, an agile business will have plans underway to introduce fresh ideas to the market. Because every member is included in group product development sessions (typically), new ideas don’t slip through. It becomes easy to explore new ways of doing things. Being the first to bring out the touchscreen to mobile communications when everyone was focusing on the QWERTY interaction is one such instance where business agility came into effect.

Essentially, were it not for the rather unorthodox way of managing talent associated with the legend of Steve Jobs, a lot of the technology we enjoy today wouldn’t have been invented. It matters that you’re the first to think about a solution. It implies that you should have people thinking about new ideas, not just maintaining what’s already in production. Again, you might think it’s trivial to be maintaining a product, but no. It’s vital in maintaining your improvement. Even with no new product, those customers enjoying your fresh version of the same product count for something. An agile business has higher customer retention rates than one sitting on its laurels.

4. Business Agility Yields a Happier Workforce

Serious thought around business agility eventually leads to your company using new tools on a day-to-day level of functionality. Less paperwork means fewer printer queues and more work actually taking place. Your workforce would be more satisfied with the work they do. Hence happier and more willing to improve the company. Don’t take our words for it—look into how tech start-ups have happier employee figures. Then explore the correlation with their management framework. Most are evidently agile.

Managing to keep your workforce from searching for happier places to work means you also have a high employee retention rate. The benefits from just the high retention rate show in their willingness to make your product(s) better with time. At the time of writing, it’s hard to keep technical talent glued to your purpose due to the high salaries offered (or literally thrown at them) by competition. But when you look closely, all that noise is from agile businesses fishing out talent to steer further ahead of their competition.

When the issue of money stops being a determinant of company loyalty, the environment in which said talent works will be unresting of their efforts. In short, agile. Quick disclaimer: This doesn’t mean big companies can’t be modeled or aligned toward agility. It just gets harder with size.

5. An Agile Business Costs Less To Run

This one stands true because of multiple factors. Initially, it can be an expensive project getting everyone to engage in their work from a business agility standpoint. This includes new software you’d have to invest in, newer workstations, and even talent acquisition. However, when the dust settles, running the result is more affordable in most instances. You save work hours lost to traditional practices such as people having to physically meet on a regular basis to deliberate on something. This is just one example of cost-cutting resultant of being an agile business.

Utilizing the latest ways of doing business has proven to save costs. There’s a reason why we’ve seen a worldwide adoption of strategies such as going paperless. Trace it and you’ll see how it emerged from agile teams realizing how unnecessary it is to use paper for everything. The first bank to go paperless allowed new customers to join them with less hassle, and costs to run them (like buying and printing application forms) fell. Simply letting the customer know why a bank would do this makes them happier (and employees don’t worry about paper cuts processing accounts). The list goes on.

Achieving Business Agility

There are several barriers capable of discouraging your business from attaining a state of agility. A survey carried out not too long ago revealed hurdles that your business should leap over in order to be agile. The most prevalent reason is the current environment—including company structures, hierarchies, norms, and standards—is too complex to dismantle and align towards agility. This is why bigger companies have tougher chances of actually innovating in comparison to start-ups: bureaucracy. Someone with a higher rank than yourself has to approve every idea you come up with.

Business Agility Barriers

On the contrary, new businesses aren’t necessarily agile by default. Another reason why companies don’t implement agility is the cost to start down the path. Your company should work out the financial feasibility of implementing the change. This would be a top-to-bottom assessment. It may be that the cost is insurmountable. However, matched to the expected benefits, it could still make sense to convert. In such a situation, you could start changing in a sustainable growth way.

From the same survey above, there is proof that some companies were keen on changing. However, only their IT departments were actively approaching issues from a business agility perspective. You may be in a congruent situation. As such, there would be some inconsistency between the various departments you have. Information produced and processed to stay afloat is treated differently. The worst-case scenario is how a lot of data could be slipping past your fingers when it could turn the market in your favor. This elongates the time and effort required for your ideas to deliver value.

Agility Through Value Stream Management

A value stream management opportunity would come in handy in a situation where different frameworks are being used in an organization. Think of it as a way to stand over every process. Then funnel the information created at each stage and utilize it fully. This way, keeping track of progress without having to log in to all apps separately becomes possible. This, even when your teams use different applications to complete various tasks (as is common practice). Plutora is one such solution.

Perhaps the starting point would be to discuss business agility with your company. This stage is crucial because everyone should be willing to try a different way of approaching their job. You might face challenges such as inertia from within. However, once everyone puts their ego aside, your business stands to benefit more than it loses in the long run.

Taurai Mutimutema Taurai Mutimutema

Taurai is a systems analyst with a knack for writing, which was probably sparked by the need to document technical processes during code and implementation sessions. He enjoys learning new technology, and talks about tech even more than he writes.