Steps to building a better understanding of organizational agility

Learn about organizational agility. Here I explain where to start and where to look for more information to start your agile evolution.


Talking about organizational agility is not only relevant but necessary. And this term was not very popular some time ago. In fact, few people understood the problem behind scaling, that is, taking agile management principles and values to an organizational scale. In some contexts the term hyperagility.

In this category of articles about basic management concepts, today it is the turn for Organizational AgilityWhat is organizational agility and why is it relevant? And what are the differences between "being agile" and "being agile on a large scale"? Here's how.

The agile movement and the generational changeover

Some time ago I argued in a Webinar that agility was very relevant in our time for a key reason: the generational change forced new battles - and among them, the adoption of new and different ways of managing teams. People, of course, who make up today's labor market, need organizational agility more than ever. This does not mean that other generations cannot take advantage of it, or that an invention from the last century - such as agility - has not contributed in different contexts to many people and organizations. What I am saying is that its rise is largely due to this relay.

Definition of Organizational Agility

Organizational agility is the ability of organizations to master continuous change. In this way, these organizations can thrive and grow in a world that is becoming more and more volatile, uncertain, complex y ambiguous - This combination of words is known as environments. V.U.C.A.

This being the case, you must understand that organizational agility is more friendly to concepts like: efficiency and effectivenessand less close to terms like speed and velocity. I'm sure you've heard many people and companies avoid "seeing the differences" and just assume that being agile is about doing everything "more": faster, cheaper, more eccentric, more fun.

Better Organized with Agility

Agile organizations are organizations. That is, they have a mission, their goals, many projects, and of course, their operation. But, above all, organizations are composed of PEOPLE. In an agile organization:

  1. Work does not disappear or shrink. Organizational agility promotes better ways of grouping and coordinating people to deal with the uncertain environment - remember the term V.U.C.A.? In this way, they are able to improve their response times and ability to adapt to opportunities or threats.
  2. Less stress if we size up the amount of work ahead. Given that the teams have clear objectives and the "job to be done"There is less anxiety - goals are set based on capacity and not desires. This will allow you to self-organize.
  3. People feel more comfortable with their work. This happens as organizational agility matures in the enterprise. Expertise takes time and people become more confident with their capabilities as an organization matures. agile thinking takes over the organization, the governance structures and, of course, the people.

The Road to Organizational Agility

Here are some tips to help you become a connoisseur of organizational agility. Here is a roadmap and some of my favorite books, articles and videos.

Step 1: Know and understand

I have been a university professor for over 17 years. I was fortunate to find teaching very early in my professional life. Although I started with topics related to software development, nowadays I focus on talent management, projects and innovation related to technology. So, guess what my first tip is going to be: study.

Trying to be an expert in something you haven't even read a book for is an insult - to yourself and everyone around you. It saddens me to see fake experts who, with a few videos and little reading and no study, preach in their professional lives as if they have a lot of experience. And we are full of examples of inexperienced experts - that if you don't know it is what is considered an oxymoron. So, if you are one of me and you like to study, read and research, I invite you to learn a little without spending a lot of money.

Far from being an extensive list, this is a small group of recommendations to get you started that I think are very valuable.

On agility and innovation

Steps to Understanding Organizational Agility: Innovation - Book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
The Lean Startup

This book by Eric Ries is excellent and presents clear concepts about "entrepreneurship" inside and outside organizations. It makes clear the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (or MVP) and the importance of iterating to early validate business hypotheses.

You can visit the website of The Lean Startup or buy his book at Amazon.

Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days

An excellent book by Jake Knapp that brings to the table how a very focused and capable team, similar to a Scrum team, can generate ideas and validate them quickly before investing in them.

The book is a super recommended reading for those who wish to generate ideas and consolidate incubation processes in organizations.

Steps to Understanding Organizational Agility: Innovation - Sprint Book by Jake Knapp

Agility and Management - Management

Life is full of twists and turns. Coding is something I've been passionate about since I was a kid. There isn't a month that goes by that I don't research software development related topics, or start online courses - I admit I'm good at starting, not so good at finishing. From my programming days, I remember the lack of respect for coordinators or managers. Without going into detail, I admit that many of those "leaders" merely followed up. However, there were exceptional managers that I not only admire, they were a great influence in the development of my professional life.

But as teaching influenced my work as a programmer, my team management skills improved. Today I respect and admire both professions. Both are worthy, necessary and complementary. And although for me there weren't many options as a programmer - because my communication skills were always more interesting to my employers than my programming skills, today I know that there is a universe of roles and responsibilities for today's startups.

Here is a list of books that changed my perception of management and the work of managers.

Steps to Understanding Organizational Agility: Management - Book Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo
Management 3.0

A classic by Jurgen Appelo, Management 3.0. It is somewhat philosophical and sometimes seems like a personal catharsis of Jurgen. Which is probably why he later released other, more practical books.

The book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders sets the clear context of the urgency of agility and the evolution of management. Currently, Jurgen is leading the Happy Melly and a real process of organizational transformation.

I want to comment that I love what Jurgen does, but I think he's limited by scale - that is, these are very good ideas, difficult to implement in large organizations. Then the book talks about agility, but little about "organizational agility" or what we technically know as "scaled agile".

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

A book by one of the so-called "fathers of Scrum". - the SW development methodology that has revolutionized many teams, many organizations and has evolved beyond IT.

This is an excellent book, which has the same problem as everything else that uses the SCRUM name. Bombastic and salesy title, but with few details. Who doesn't want to get twice the work done in half the time? Although the title doesn't make it clear "at what cost" either.

Scrum is, without a doubt, an excellent small team management model that, far from solving all the problems of the corporate world, is an important part of organizational agility or at scale.

Now, Jeff, and his vendor titles is as guilty of the mediocre Scrum fizzle as all the inexperienced Certified Scrum Masters who don't know how to interact with people. Jeff said it not long ago in an interviewThe 80% of Scrum implementations are garbage.

Steps to Understanding Organizational Agility: Management - Scrum Book by Jeff Sutherland
Steps to Understanding Organizational Agility: Management - Agile Practice Guide Book by PMI and Agile Alliance
Project Management Institute Agile Practice Guide

I never tire of saying it, PMI is always late to the party, although it is commendable that it always comes to the party. Of course, in this "agile frenzy", PMI played its card - and I admit that I participated in the construction, translation and release of the Guide.

This is a small book, very generic, about general concepts of the application of agile practices to project management. Without being a sacred document, as the PMBoK is for PMI Fans, it is an excellent introduction to the subject. Not in vain the work was done in conjunction with Agile Alliance.

Of course, there are thousands of books, readings, videos and even PodCasts with important information. I invite you to leave your input and suggestions in the comments.

Important Note for Agile Fan Boys and Hippie Agile Coaches. This theme of mediocrity and effervescence is not a Scrum theme. It is a general theme of fads (defined by Jurgen as "Management 2.0 or Fads"). Those of us who have been in the consulting world for a bit longer know that it is inevitable. When a topic becomes relevant and raises improvements or solutions to the organizational challenges of its time, we have pioneers, insiders and, the vast majority who come to the topic by "need", "business" and not "self-interest".

Step 2: Assess the application context

Think about the organization or work structure that will support the goals you want to link to an Agile Evolution. Organizational agility requires a plan. Knowledge without a plan of action is just another book on a library shelf. You need to put that knowledge into action. To achieve this you need to think about the people who will accompany you in the process.

It is necessary to determine the objectives and goals to be achieved, and the organizational capacities needed to make this possible. You need to ask yourself:

  • What specific skills and knowledge about your industry or your company are needed?
  • Who should participate in an active, determined and focused way?
  • Who should work on their daily tasks and at the same time support this new venture?
  • How will the current operation and the transformation process that is occurring coexist? Although there are models that posit absolute solutions - such as SAFe. This is a process of experimentation for each company. The valuable thing is to make mistakes, make them quickly and at little expense to ensure timely learning.

The important thing: don't be fooled. The same people with the same assignments and workload cannot take on a big new responsibility. Differentiate operation (bringing food to the table) from evolution (ensuring that we can continue to bring food to the table in the future). Remember, if you assign the same people, the operation is more important in the short term than the evolution.

Step 3: Act accordingly.

This process is an investment, and for sure in the short term you will see a negative impact on your productivity. Understand what it means to change the way people think, feel and act towards work, the organization and the people around them.

If it's hard for a manager, imagine for those at the bottom of your company's structure. Everyone thinking what the fuck is going to happen with this change. If you feel fear, it's normal, if you resist, it's normal, you are leaving your comfort zone. 

Tip: If you want to get there fast, go it alone, if you want to go far, put together a team.

In a major effort, you shouldn't waste valuable time on mistakes you can avoid. Get constant support over a defined period of time and with clear goals. Acquire the internal skills to be self-critical to correct course where necessary. Seek external support from a consultant or bring in people with experience in other companies. Look for experience, reliability and passion in people. Commit yourself, "if you can't participate, don't send anyone"..


Alberto Dominguez
Alberto Dominguez

Leading teams from theory to real and sustainable delivery of innovative IT products and services.

Articles: 45

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