Business Agility is More Important than Agile Development

May 17, 2011

I recall reading an article many years ago that gave advice to CIOs that annoyed the crap out of me. The article was about CIOs needing to be change agents, suggesting that in order to generate a sense of urgency in the organization – and to get people to willingly and quickly adapt to change – CIOs should create a crisis.

This advice sounded lame to me then, and my view hasn’t changed over the years. If you want to drive change, there needs to be transparency and sincerity about the nature of change, and it must be grounded in reality. If you are a leader driving artificial change, people will see through it and write you off, riding out the fire drill and returning to the same way of operating once the drill is over.

It takes commitment and support to create lasting change. And these days, there isn’t a need to create a crisis. Businesses should be paranoid enough about their own survival to realize that maintaining the status quo isn’t good enough.

The ever-present crisis these days is simple: Corporate survival rates are declining. The Shift Index study by Deloitte's Center for the Edge, which examined 20,000 US firms from 1965 to date, demonstrates a dramatic decline in the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500:

I feel that agility has to start somewhere, and while Agile development is a great start, organizations need more than just development agility; organizations need business agility. And the organization has to want it. The name of the game is to eliminate waste, to reduce overhead, to increase speed in execution and responsiveness to change.

If the development teams are agile and the rest of the organization is decidedly not, will the wheels of progress really be churning that much faster? Will the concept of autonomous teams really be embraced in ways that provide lasting value to the organization? It's about going deeper than simply working existing processes faster. After all, you can’t expedite everything and maintain that pace indefinitely.

True, lasting change is a long and hard road, but Agile development can function as a mirror to those organizations that want change and have the courage and commitment to implement that change. Change will mean different ways of doing things, of re-considering what you are doing and why you are doing those things.

Today’s competitive pressures make business agility the real cornerstone for change, although it makes perfect sense that software development practices shouldn’t run counter to business needs. Stripping out unnecessary overhead, flattening and streamline the organization, and maximizing value delivery isn’t just for development teams!


Hi Dave,

I agree with your premis. To achieve true agility the influence of core competencies (software dev. may be one of these) of the organization will have to extend outside their areas to create an aligned organization. Aligning the whole org. to their values is a leadership challenge.

I'd like to investigate the source of the graph. While the avg. may have dropped over the years... I'll bet that is not the only interesting info in the data set. Those wave patterns look interesting on the avg. line. I noticed a repeat of the year 1990 on the X-axis - weird.

15 yrs for the Avg. corp life expectancy is quite short in one view. But I'm assuming that data set includes mergers & acquisitions as an end of life event. I'd love to see that pulled out and a real infographic on the topic.

June 9, 2011 at 8:04 AM
Dave Moran said...

@David Koontz,

I grabbed the graphic to illustrate what was being said in words. The repeat of 1990 is odd...

The merger or acquisition is a tough one, although it would be nice to see pulled out. Being acquired can be good or bad. Good if it represents an opportunity for additional backing and growth, extending the reach of an existing company. Bad if it means being gobbled up due to weakness, with subsequent layoffs.

June 14, 2011 at 6:45 AM
Louis said...

Business agility might just be as important as agile development, based from what you've said. In order for you to gain a competitive advantage against other companies in your field, it'll be a good idea to consider the business agility.

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December 12, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Stanley said...

Both are important in doing business but if I have to choose, I would also go for business agility.

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May 28, 2012 at 10:58 AM

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