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Topics from Business Agility Meetup in Brisbane – July

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In mid-July, EPiC hosted the first Business Agility Meetup in Brisbane. We had a great group of attendees both from the commercial, the coaching and the leadership side of the conversation. A range of topics were discussed in the meetup, and we thought we would take the opportunity to dive into the topics in more depth here – please note the thoughts captured are purely those of EPiC and our coaches and it is not our intention nor a representation of the thoughts of the attendees present at the Meetup.

See you at the next Meetup

We hope you enjoy our summary of the topics from our July Meetup and we welcome discussion here and in the next events at Business Agility Meetup – Brisbane.

 – Christian van Stom and Michael Arndt

How do you start an Enterprise Agility Transformation?

We discussed how best to kick off a transformational journey. Do we start small and create organic interest or do we look to go full-blown restructure? Understanding the pros and cons of each made for an interesting discussion and featured an array of viewpoints depending on the experience and role of the participants in the discussion.

Firstly, initiating small, isolated pockets of agility within traditional organisations can certainly be done and has been done to different levels of success. The hope with this approach is that agile economies and ways of working can be showcased back to the greater organisation and create interest to spark more business units, platforms and teams to try it themselves. These early adopters can greatly benefit the transformation of an organisation in the long term.

The second school of thought focused on more holistic whole business unit transformation. 

At this point, the discussion mainly focused on the benefits of ‘going all in’ from the start. 

These include viewing this change from a systems thinking perspective and focusing on where the problems in the system arise post significant reset or restructure towards an agile way of working. 

This is useful, as we can see and fix the real issues which prevent us from transforming quickly and move on to the next challenges. The first method in which we attempt a more symbiotic approach to agile adoption relies heavily on assumptions of the system around us, sometimes without a clear view of which constraints are the most important to solve.

How do you build Business Agility in Stealth Mode? 

This question surfaces challenges around:

  1. Illegitimate transformations 
  2. Language barriers
  3. Change burnout
  4. Embedding into the existing context

Illegitimate transformations

Firstly, the legitimacy challenge. Business Agility transformations are complex systems thinking puzzles which require extreme buy-in from Business Leadership. When tackling your business transformation, the first step is ensuring that you have secured the necessary buy-in from senior stakeholders before engaging in the transformation exercise. 

If you are using stealth mode to surreptitiously change a Business without Leadership buy-in there is a strong chance of failure, although these transformations may start with good intent and ride a wave of groundswell support, they rarely find the longevity required to sustain the transformation without support from the top, worse still, they can fail quickly and spectacularly once the leader finds out.

Language barriers

Secondly, stealth mode can be used to maneuver around groups that are experiencing “change fatigue” or who are turned off by jargon.

Business Agility doesn’t rely on frameworks, but a lot of transformations lean heavily on them. Frameworks and new language usually go hand in hand. 

The downside of new language is that it can make your transformation feel like a transformation, i.e. something that is being done to you and not by you – this can bring in resistance and negativity towards it. 

Effectively, the human organism (which is what our businesses are) recognises the change as a threat to the status quo and mobilises defences to neutralise it.

The upside is that language is crucial to forming human experience, and by changing the language it enables the transformation to be more sticky (hold relevance for longer). 

A key take away here is let’s only change the language where it is really meaningful to the outcome and where we are deliberately moving away from an alternative approach, and when we do so, let’s co-create the language so that it is meaningful to the business and less likely to trigger resistance.

Change Burnout

Burnout, or “change fatigue” can be common in organisations that have stood the test of time, have been through multiple transformations, or that are rapidly responding to concurrent change.

Business Agility Transformations are commonly kicked off in these scenarios. Stealth mode can be appealing again in these situations as it enables change agents to move around resistance in the business and focus on the areas that are more open to change or are even showing volunteerism towards the transformation.

The risk, in this case, is that it can leave those outside of the “transformation group” feeling isolated or overlooked and can cause resistance to creep in and create a counter-culture acting against the transformation. 

Embedding into the existing context

Using the existing structures, language and symbols within an organisation can be helpful for shortcutting the transformation and reducing the resistance to change which is a natural occurring response for most people. 

This approach requires reshaping of the existing ways of working and learned experiences and processes within an organisation to focus on new outcomes, objectives and results. 

This can certainly be an effective solution for escaping some of the initial effort in setting up a transformation but needs additional effort throughout to ensure we are achieving the desired results and not slipping back into old patterns and behaviours.

Measuring transformation success

Another topic was how to know when a transformation is successful or going off the rails. We discussed as a group the use of simple metrics to understand our ability to interpret changes to the organisation. These included firstly the Net Promoter Score (NPS) of our customers, the happiness and wellbeing of our people and staff, and thirdly a nod to the Enterprise Business Agility model

Enterprise Business Agility Model | Epic Agile 

The EBA model is a useful tool to firstly baseline a transformation, set real, visible targets to continuous improvement and then revisit to assess the speed of the transformation. The method is focused around eight pillars which include Customer Seat at the Table, Lean Portfolio Management, Organisational Structure and Design to name a few. 

The tangible targets the EBA enables give us real, qualitative and quantitative data around how we as an organisation are improving and what our goals are for the transformation.

These targets and shifts in our ways of working can sometimes be hidden without the right expert advice to interpret the data. 

This model can go a long way in closing that gap in understanding, enabling everyone involved to have a share in the voice, form strong consensus, encourage divergent thinking and ultimately increase the buy-in, ownership and ultimately the stickiness and success of the transformation.

Juggling organisational “high priorities”

We had a really rich discussion around organisational prioritisation, and it’s probably not a huge surprise that the way we launch a Business Agility Transformation has a strong impact on how we manage prioritisation as an organisation.

There are two main topics under this heading:

  1. How does Business Agility enable organisational prioritisation? 
  2. How do we manage the priorities of the transformation itself?

How does Business Agility enable organisational prioritisation?

Business Agility brings a commonality of cadences (the frequency and repetition of ceremonies and events) which over time reduce the complexity of working within the system and enables the organisation to focus on solving the complexity of providing value to customers and stakeholders.

Some of the most important of these cadences are centred on planning and continuous improvement.

Over continued, short, repetitive cycles of planning and continuous improvement, the organisation builds a prioritisation muscle, which is essentially the ability to form a backlog of items that will deliver the greatest value to the organisation’s customers and stakeholders over the shortest period of time.

The greatest challenge to this is an organisation’s ability to focus on a small number of priorities, and to build capacity within the organisation to get them done.

Business Agility enables the organisation to focus on customer value as a key indicator of success and as the key decision filter for prioritisation.

Additional cadences are focused on delivery and inspecting real outcomes of the work being done which enables the organisation to gain clarity on the number of items it can focus on at once while still delivering value to customers.

In a nutshell, we let real customers educate the order in which work is done, and we empower the teams doing the work to guide how much we commit to, while the entire organisation is focused on continuously improving the outcome.

This can lead to organisational backlogs, quarterly business planning, and the creation of Organisational Objectives and Key Results to ensure that we are focusing on the right outcomes at the right times.

Which leads on to point 2.

How do we manage the priorities of the transformation itself?

Further up in the other topics we have discussed the need for the organisation to own the transformation, and the need for people to transform themselves, nobody likes the feeling of having a transformation done to them.

Just as the organisation makes the collective priority decisions for how to deliver customer value, the organisation also needs to make the decision for what it wants to focus on transforming and in what order.

This can mean creating transformation teams or enablement squads made up of a combination of representatives from across the business as well as external coaches to create the capacity in the organisation to focus on delivering the transformation.

The best people to decide on what to transform are the business itself. The role of coaching is to create a shared understanding and vision for the transformation, to create a shared method for measuring the outcomes and to enable the organisation to prioritise and take ownership of the transformation and improvement.

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