Agility & Business

Michael Hugos had a really good post on CIO.com titled “Agility Means Simple Things Done Well, Not Complex Things Done Fast” that provided the best definition of “agility’ that I’ve found.  He writes:

Experience shows me (again and again) that agility is not about working fast but about finding elegantly simple solutions to business problems. You’ll know you’ve found an elegantly simple solution when the business people agree it solves their most important and immediate problems…

…because people can’t find these simple solutions, they mistakenly claim that agility itself doesn’t work. They come to this conclusion because they attempt to be agile by cramming complex solutions into short development cycles through working harder, longer, and faster…

…An elegantly simple solution (a robust 80% solution) doesn’t do everything (there isn’t time for that), just the most important things.

I found Michael’s article via George Ambler’s The Practice of Leadership Blog (great blog…check it out) in a post with the same title as Michael Hugos’.  In George’s blog post, he says (emphasis mine):

We spend too much time complicating our lives by trying to do too much, too fast! There seems to never be enough time to do something correctly, but always enough time to do it over again! Given to complexity of managing business, we’re prone to think that complex solutions, are better solutions. Instead we need to focus on implementing good enough solutions, solutions that bring about small wins. Small wins, if continually applied, in a thoughtful and strategic manner, quickly add up to significant results. Small wins are more manageable and have less of an impact if they fail. Seeking big wins are extremely difficult, prone to failure and require significant political will! Focus on the small wins…simple things done well… repeatedly provide true competitive advantage.

Hugos and Ambler have some amazing insight in these two passages.

The original intent of Michael Hugos article was to describe Agile development methods but I think it can be easily transferred to any piece of an organization, which is what George Ambler is pointing at in his post.  This is also what I’ve been trying to say in previous posts (see Simplicity equals Success, Is Perfect Worth It? and In Search of Perfection for examples).

Agility isn’t just needed for competitive advantage…it is required for survival.  Organization’s without agility will not survive…so why then do organizations and people still rely on heavy handed processes and bureaucracy?  I think it’s because they don’t know any better.

In order to bring agility into the bureaucratic organizations, a value must be placed on the ability to be agile…hopefully some of the research occurring today and in the near future will help.

How would you show the value of agility to your organization?

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  • http://www.businessmanagementbasics.com Steve Coleman

    Eric,
    All good business people tend to get done the things that can be done soonest, the impossible needs to be put off for another day!
    All one’s eggs in one basket has always been dangerous.

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  • http://it.toolbox.com/people/davidwright/ David Wright

    Isn’t something backwards here? I want to first find out what are the business’ most important and immediate problems and work directly on solving them, not build a solution and then see if its the right one. Am I missing something here?

  • http://ericbrown.com Eric D. Brown

    Hi David,

    You are correct. The idea is to find the pressing problems and try to solve them. The issue is how you solve that problem and how quickly you can move to solve that problem.

    Many organizations take much too long to find the problem and then even longer to solve the problem. If you see the problem, find the simplest solution (if possible)..perhaps your solutions doesn’t fix the problem completely but at least it gets you moving in the right direction.

  • http://www.wrike.com/projectmanagement Daria

    Eric,
    I think what you say about people not knowing any better way is true. Today many business thinkers draw corporate executives and managers attention to the opportunities bought by the Web 2.0 technologies. One of them is Gary Hamel, for example. I work with Andrew Filev, who writes about transformations in project management. The thing is new technologies make live easier for project managers; it becomes easy to adjust the project plans to ever-changing environments. So these new technologies make organizations more agile, and that means more competitive.

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