Business Agility 101

Bob Galen, Principal Agile Coach, Vaco Raleigh

With his deep, in the trenches, agile experience, Bob Galen is widely considered as a “Coach of Coaches” in the agile community. He’s been using Extreme Programming since 2001, Scrum practices since the late 1990s, and Kanban since 2009. He’s been actively coaching agile teams, both as an external consultant and internal change agent, for the past 17+ years.

There are many terms thrown about in the agile arena. Some are more dated (Extreme Programming, Scrum, and Kanban) and others are of a more recent lineage (Scaled Agile Framework, DevOps, and Agile Transformations).

One of the most recent is this notion of Business Agility.

Collectively, Vaco’s agile coaching team has been engaged in these practices for nearly fifty years. Each of them possesses the experience with the core methods, practices, scaling, Agile leadership and culture. That being said, there is no community agreement as to a clear definition of Business Agility. Therefore, Vaco’s agile experts decided to explore this topic further.

Basic Definitions

Here’s a definition from the Agile Alliance:

“Business agility is the ability of an organization to sense changes internally or externally and respond accordingly in order to deliver value to its customers.

Business agility is not a specific methodology or even a general framework. It’s a description of how an organization operates through embodying a specific type of growth mindset that is very similar to the agile mindset often described by members of the agile software development community. The nature of that mindset is described in the Values and Principles section.”

And here’s a definition from the Business Agility Institute:

Change, both technological and cultural, is occurring faster than ever before. In this climate, modern enterprises will live or die on their ability to quickly adapt. As a result, companies are turning to agile for ideas to innovate, reduce costs, and remain relevant in a changing market.”

Business agility embraces change. Business agility changes how you think, how you work and the way you interact with people. This change is crucial at every level of the organization, from the operations floor to the C-Suite.[

During an InfoQ video, Steve Denning, an Agile management expert, presented his three laws or keys to sustaining business agility. They are:

  1. The law of the Customer (common goal)
  2. The law of the Small Team (small everything: cycles, batches, value-delivered, etc.)
  3. The law of the Network (not hierarchy)

He also talks about how agile requires a mindset (not tools, not frameworks, not processes, not workflows, etc.).

The laws reflect the essence of this mindset.

What does Business Agility mean to Vaco?

In some ways, we think of Business Agility in the same way we reacted to and came to understand DevOps.

We think the term is a bit misunderstood.

From our perspective, the theme that comes out of the above references is that:

First, Business Agility directly connects to all of the things that the agile software development movement aspires to be – basic business drivers and the principles from the Agile Manifesto.

It’s not a separate thing. Instead, it’s an aspect of the agile continuum, just like Lean and DevOps.

As mentioned in the video linked above, agile is about mindset. In the same way, we believe Business Agility is also about mindset.

This mindset isn’t simply within the IT organization or the software product development organization. It’s across your entire company.

For example, that’s why Agile HR and Agile Marketing are so interesting to us in how they play into supporting and growing your Business Agility.

When you engage us at Vaco, you get some things by default:

  • You get an incredibly seasoned team of agile practitioners and coaches with vast experience.
  • You get a team of coaches that work seamlessly together to deliver more value than the sum of the individuals.
  •  You get a firm that practices its teachings. Each day, whether with the client or at home, we live, breathe, and share our agile principles.

But you get something else that we think is incredibly important.

You get a firm that is totally focused on helping you achieve business agility, not simply within IT or development, but holistically across your entire organization. We are passionate about transforming company cultures and leveraging agile and lean techniques for you and your customers’ competitive advantage.