Agility doesn't kill strategy, it saves it

Being agile is not about speed at all costs, it's about constantly adapting and improving.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2017

Stick to your guns. See things through to their conclusion. Show resolve in the face of adversity. We’re taught from an early age that changing your mind is a sign of weakness. It’s little wonder then that in the grown-up world of business, the word agility is sometimes met with eye rolls and air quotes.

All too often, agility is taken to mean speed at all costs, an absolute rejection of long-term thinking in favour of short-term gains. And if that’s the case, then embracing agility would mean the end of strategy, the foundation on which all successful enterprise is built.

The problem is that this completely misunderstands what business agility actually means. For a start, it’s not a vague idea of speed over substance. It’s a mindset and an approach founded on well-established best practice, which initially focused on IT and on project management but has now proved successful across all parts of an organisation.

Business agility is not centred around capricious short-termism either, but around the concept of iterative development. The idea is that you prototype and test ideas quickly, so you can continuously learn and improve. By making a minimum viable product, you can figure out what works and what doesn’t, improve it, learn from the next version, and move to the next stage.

This is only inconsistent with strategy if you believe strategy to be rigid and unalterable, like some Stalinist five-year plan. But effective strategy has always been open to revision. Conditions might change. Your assumptions might be proven inaccurate. You might have a better idea – or a competitor might.

The reason Agile has become so popular in recent years is not that it negates strategy, but that it supercharges it. And in the modern business world, being supercharged is not a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity. 

We live in an age of tremendous and unpredictable change. The disruptive forces of technology have allowed exponential business models to emerge, which can rapidly transform sector and society. In many cases, you can’t afford to wait a year to see if your flagship product is any good. Someone else might get there first, or a new technology might make it obsolete. Just look at the most successful companies of the 21st century. Tech giants like Google and Facebook are constantly releasing new products and updating existing ones. Some are swiftly ditched as unworkable; others survive and quickly improve, but nothing stands still.  

None of this takes anything away from the need for long-term planning. Some business activities will always require substantial time to execute and therefore need commitments to be made well in advance. You can’t turn a drawing on a piece of paper into a skyscraper or an operational oil rig in a year, let alone a week.

But when conditions change so quickly, it becomes all the more important for your long-term strategy to be malleable, rather than brittle, and for your business processes to be open to constant improvement. If you know how to be Agile, this becomes possible, and the challenges of the rapidly-shifting 21st century world suddenly start to look like opportunities.

Of course, changing an organisation’s mindset is not something that can be done overnight. In fact, it’s not even a one-off transformation at all, but rather a journey. It does, however, need to be done properly. Come to the Agile Business Conference in London, October 4-5 2017, for an opportunity to hear from those who’ve done it already, from fully Agile organisations to recent adopters.

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