The Agility Trends for 2021


Eduardo Alvim

2/11/20214 min read

side view of man wearing white tank top during golden hour
side view of man wearing white tank top during golden hour

Every company wants to be agile and, to some extent, have some sort of ad-hoc agile implemented. However, this ad-hoc agile does not bring the value that corporations are expecting to have. Mainly, it’s due to the fact that this practices and mindset did not make through the whole organization yet, staying enclosed to the development teams within the IT or R&D organization

With the agile manifesto celebrating 20 years in 2021 it’s about the time to make the next and definitive step: Enterprise and Business Agility. This is the final frontier to achieve the expected benefits all companies are waiting for. If we link this possibility with the need to adapt to the recent changes in the market due to the 2020’s impact, this is more than a trend, but a need for survival. Together with it, many more lean-agile practices are in need in today’s organizations to speed-up the adoption rate and start realizing the expected value.

No one could predict what happened during the last year (one might say otherwise), it was a real game changer for many companies around the world. I’ve got to know many companies that had to let go about 40% of their workforce due to the pandemics, but still having to keep the previously contracted deliveries to their customers. Other companies have been going through a “Digital Transformation” over the last years, but when the crisis hit, they’ve seen it was not robust enough to self-sustain and they’ve experienced the small pieces falling apart. That’s a very unfortunate situation, but, more common that we can imagine.

Is there a way through it? Definitely, there is. But the change needs to be started as soon as yesterday! There is no magical formula other than leaders taking an effective decision of fostering a culture change on the company. We are not talking about that kind of disruptive and abrupt change that will break the company apart, but about those that are bold enough to dare questioning the “status quo” and preparing the company for the future. There is no escape — the C-level is occupying the seat to lead the change and help navigating the company through these unknown waters. Looking at the past is easy, imagine and create the future is hard.

Companies are taking a lot of time to realize the full benefits of going agile because they are not bold enough to dare changing the current processes, decision structure and specially the hierarchy. These enterprises are still running using concepts that were coined decades ago and that are not appropriate anymore during times like these. We have to change, and we have to change now!

Agile is already (at minimum) twenty years old. Digital Transformation, although accelerated during the last years, is not enough anymore. Business and Enterprise agility is the next goal.

But how can we ensure to be ready for what’s next? Or how can we be sure to be ready for what’s now? That’s what we expect to hear and, above all, one of the reasons for which we need to start having a better and more global approach on addressing business agility.

Companies wanting to thrive and excel during 2021 moving towards business and enterprise agility need to:
  • Apply a system thinking approach: Get rid of local optimizations and start thinking on a global optimization. Finding the most adaptable and flexible organization that you need to have in order to deliver the value expected is key so they will be able to handle the changing demands of the market in a sustainable and long run.

  • From project development to lean-product development approach: We recognize that we don’t know everything from the beginning and that things will change over the course of the development. Instead of having everything defined upfront, a series of small experiments will be conducted, getting feedback and improving the final product. Involve and engage the customer as early as possible in the process to ensure that the right value with the expected quality is being delivered and then, move to the next valuable piece of functionality, product, service, solution. Easily pivot or persevere, ignoring sunk costs.

  • Establish a Value-stream oriented organization: We have to start breaking the existing silos and boundaries that are inherent to the organizations as they are very counter-productive. Value doesn’t flow through silos, but if we insist, we are going to increase the number of hand-offs and that will lead to a creation of queues. This is highly inefficient, and it represents value that wasn’t consumed or transformed, leading to a retention of revenue. We would rather have an organization that is oriented and organized around the value that they are supposed to deliver for both internal consumption and to their customers.

  • Agile teams instead of development teams: Development teams are a very limited view of how value is created within and organization. More and more companies are investing on integrating marketing, product marketing, sales, development, operations within one team or within a big team of teams. This type of configuration helps the organization to speed-up the decision making, evaluating options in an agile way and change directions if needed be, increasing the overall productivity of the organization.

  • Implement an Agile HR approach: The culture of a company eats agile for a breakfast. HR needs to take a more proactive role by being a main actor of the change and help changing its culture. Work with management to help them understanding the impact of change and their role on the new organization. Address gaps on current and future staffing privileging the soft skills and not only technical skills, ensuring employees have access to whatever they need in order to execute the strategy defined by the company.

After realizing that there is much more work than they could have ever imagined, if they want to change and prepare for the future, the same question arises:

“Do I have to do it?”

To that, we can always reference back to this (allegedly) W. Edwards Deming’s quote, but still very valid these days:

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.

Wish you all good winds and waves to surf this 2021!