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The VAT of Business Agility

· Strategy,Agile,CEO,Business Performance

It is a rare CEO these days who doesn’t use the “agile” word when talking about their corporate strategy and direction. And yet, what does this word actually mean, and what benefits derive from being an agile organisation?

After many years working with CEOs and other business leaders to bring an Agile Mindset to the organisation, I would suggest there are three pillars forming the foundation of any agile organisation:

  • Value
  • Alignment 
  • Transparency

Whether it be a private company, government department or large commercial enterprise, I have observed that these three pillars (the “VAT of Business Agility”) to be critical to creating and maintaining organisational agility.

Let’s look at each of these separately:

Value

Whatever the organisation, creating value for customers (whether they be consumers, citizens or other businesses) is the prime objective. Whilst most people would say this is an obvious statement to make, what happens in the real world can often be a far cry from what we would like to believe.

Recent stories in the business press highlight many examples where customer value was clearly secondary to other motives - where this has happened, the business has invariably suffered.

Having a stated prime objective of delivering customer value drives the organisation to be both attuned and responsive to customer needs, providing a North Star to guide the team.

Which leads to the second pillar:

Alignment

Having the organisation align behind the North Star ensures that scarce resources are deployed to their best effect. Too often, side agendas and pet projects detract from truly value-creating activities.

Related to this is the tendency over time for some organisations to place more importance in the process than the outcome. Slavishly following process may ensure all the “boxes are ticked”, but if the customer has moved elsewhere, it doesn’t matter that you delivered 100% on yesterday’s product or service needs.

By aligning with the North Star, which continues to reposition itself as consumer preferences and the market changes, we continually refine and reshape our plans to ensure we are heading in the right direction.

And to do this across the whole organisation, this requires…

Transparency

Radical Transparency!

In the Agile community, we often talk about information radiators and information fridges.

Information radiators make information as transparent as possible: BVCs (big visible charts), showcases and the frequent delivery of small product increments all help to ensure that everyone who needs to know, does know. This makes it much easier to continually check whether we are indeed on the right course (i.e. following our North Star), and as well as providing frequent, early opportunities to course-correct if we aren’t.

Information fridges, on the other hand, hide information, which inevitably leads to poor decision-making and also reinforces a silo mentality across the organisation.

The Agile Organisation is similar in some respects to a fine work of art - easy to comprehend and appreciate, difficult to replicate. While I don’t suggest that the VAT of Business Agility is a silver bullet, applying these principles is a good place to start the journey towards true business agility.
 

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