Digital Agility

Doing agile is a set of activities; but being agile is the state of mind, the ongoing capability, and the cultural adaptability.

The world is moving into the deep, deep digital new normal with wide, wide digital connectivity and tall, tall digital pillars. Agility is one of such powerful pillars to leap digital transformation and enable the business to unleash its full potential. Organizational agility is about to create and react to changes. It is about to take into account any change in the environment and transform the organization to survive, grow, and transform. It is about to respond to emergent events proactively. It is about to transform the whole organization to create a "Lego" like environment that you can change as you need effortlessly. The purpose of the book “Digital Agility” is to:

  • Share the insight about agile philosophy and mindsets
  • Clarify a set of agile principles and disciplines
  • Develop the best and next agile practices to scale up
  • Describe potential agile pitfalls and how to prevent them
  • Connect the agile dots to build a creative working environment
  • Measure the right things about agile and measure them right
  • Sum up agile maturity from multidimensional perspectives
  • Inspire healthy debates to move agile up to the next level of maturity

The term ‘Agile’ is derived from ‘The Manifesto for Agile Software Development’ which describes a collaborative way of working based on a set of twelve principles that have come to mean early delivery of business value. The problem is people do not have a profound understanding of Agile principles and philosophy behind a set of Agile framework or tools. Most of the times they use the word "agile" when in fact they are talking about agile software development. The best way to fail is thinking that you will implement agile inside a business unit without taking into account the whole enterprise. Agile needs to be the philosophy to perceive multidimensional business values. Make the effort at the leadership and portfolio level to qualify and quantify value in terms of both strategic value and tactical value; direct revenue and indirect (vision/values/culture) terms is the first step to crafting high-level strategic intents. When faced with two or more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier. Once benefits of agile are visible and understood, a domino effect takes over, the organization as a whole becomes “agiler.”

From “doing Agile to being agile” is a rocky road, not a straight path: Agile is direction, not a destination. Transforming to “Being Agile” means the business knows the direction they want to go on, and as people start “putting on” the agile mindset, discover new ways of working, collaborating, delivering value, they inspect and adapt in that journey by overcoming the frictions and challenges. You have to keep things rolling, to make agile not just a methodology to manage projects, but a principle instilled into a healthy culture to run the business more effectively. To move from Waterfall to Agile is not an act of one day. It is a journey. And as long as the journey is coming to a place where we can call the organization actually Agile, Waterfall and Agile do co-exist. Some organizations stop moving and remain in the hybrid state and some just turn back to go on the previous state of the waterfall and few actually reach the destination of the Agile world. So, hybrid organizations are reality. Agile is neither just a methodology nor a set of practices, Agile is a state of mind. It’s the basic underlying principles of Agile! You can not expect big bang mindset change so you need to start with agile philosophy and some initial practices that pay off and reinforce, a mindset change is more difficult of a change and involves coaching, training, teaching and important discussions around what Agile is to the team, department, and company.

Agile is first about doing the right things before doing things right: Agile is about people and not tools and processes. Tools and processes are definitely going to be added on, in being agile, but they are not mandated to become agile. In practice: on one hand, organizations focusing on artifacts, metrics, ceremonies without ever understanding the why from the inside, will not get far. On the other hand, evangelists of agile who lose touch with business, do agile for its own sake, also won’t be successful in being agile. Agile is really about constant renewal. Develop your own relationship with the values and principles - you'll recognize anyone who has not. Often agile practices are at odds with the overall corporate or environment. Agile practices up mean more about a mind shift and a set of principles to run an agile organization. Agile principles and agile thinking would be a better bet at today’s business dynamic with the increasing speed of change and uncertainty.  Here is a brief summary of each chapter of “Digital Agility”:

Chapter 1: Agile is a state of mind: Agile transformation is a change in mindset. Agile mindset is about empathy, people-centricity, and improvement. Agile is not about free thinking or doing without structure, Agile does not take less discipline, but needs more engineering and management discipline, looking at mapping out a transformation plan with introducing change to leadership, training with a rollout plan across the organization, and pilot a team. You can not expect big bang mindset change so you need to start with agile philosophy and some initial practices that pay off and reinforce, a mindset change is more difficult of a change and involves coaching/training/teaching and important discussions around what Agile is to the team/department/ company.

Chapter 2 Agile Principles: Agility is not only the ability to create the change but also the capability to adapt to the changes. If doing Agile is more about managing a software project which is still a business initiative to achieve business goals, and then being Agile is to follow a set of agile principles to run a business, and business agility is the upper-level characteristic of organizational maturity. There is a commonality between agile principle and leadership principle with three “I” focus: Interaction, Incrementalism, and Improvement. The principles of agile can be used by individuals and non-engineering groups as well. Agile helps management immensely through the power of collaboration, transparency, and feedback. Agile is a culture as well! It is important to recognize that moving to Agile may require a significant culture change that affects the entire business. It certainly is NOT just a "development thing,”  it’s a set of principles to run today’s digital organization.

Chapter 3  Agile Best and Next Practices: Many forward-looking organizations are shifting from doing Agile to being Agile. Scaling agile needs to be taken in several dimensions. It's not only the number of developers. There is also the number of teams, the number of sites (including onshore or offshore), the number of time zones, the number of products or value streams the developers work on, and so on. And even more importantly, how to follow the set of agile principles and practice Agile up, to build an agile leadership team or boardroom, and apply agile philosophy to run an entire organization?

Chapter 4 The Pitfalls in Agile Movement: More and more organizations are on their journey from doing Agile to being agile, and there are many pitfalls on the way: What are the biggest problems for people or companies when they decide to go Agile? What is the hardest thing when you choose that road? What are your biggest pains? What are the causes of those failures, do they fail to follow the principles, or are they failing to do the best practices? Are they failing forward or backward? Who should take more responsibility -the leadership or fellowship? Agile is often viewed as 'something for technology,' rather than as something for the business. Agility won't fix what is called "technical problems." It is a way to organize work. You still have to be good at doing the work.

Chapter 5: Agile dot connections: Agility within and of itself is a strategy. Agility is not only the ability to create the change but also the capability to adapt to the changes. And agility is about how to connect the dots in building a creative working environment and shaping a customer-centric organization. Agile is the mind shift. Agile leverages the wisdom of the masses to scale up and drive success. Agile dot-connection practices can help anyone or any group focus their attention effectively and take right actions towards a vision in manageable segments where risk, uncertainty, unknowns, and fast-moving markets are involved.

Chapter 6 Agile Measurement: Agile values and principles are best measured via linking what you want to achieve and top business goals. You have a set of well-defined values and principles based on Agile Manifesto. Values and principles are about what you believe and how you think. Neither of these is really amenable to direct measurement. And you will always have to tie these together to get the big picture of your organizational agility. In agile, measure directly what you want to achieve, what your organizational goals are like, such as go to the market time, cycle time to develop a feature, anything that you truly want to see results from. Some of the key measures of Agile effectiveness are creating value, timely delivery, teamwork and productivity for the work done, etc.

Chapter 7 Agile Maturity: "Being agile" considers the entire enterprise, not just the project. "Being agile" is based on systemic principles: the discipline of seeing "whole" which facilitates the rapid creation of business value. "Being agile" is dependent on the appropriate amount of up-front architecture. "Being agile" acknowledges and encourages the dynamics and emergent properties of the project, the project team, and the environment. In other words, "agile" that is standardized is not agile. Adding Systems Thinking to agile projects is always beneficial to improve agile maturity.

Chapter 8: Agile Debates: There are known known, known unknown, unknown unknown, either running an Agile project or managing a business as a whole, do not think Agile is just a software management methodology or the rigid engineering discipline. It is a digital philosophy with a set of brief principles to run today’s digital organization. It is important to inspire creative thinking and encourage free debating, with the goals to do the right things and do them in the right way, to follow agile principles and make continuous improvement in agile practices and deliveries.

The goal of Agile Transformation is in many similar to the goal of living a healthy lifestyle. mindset is the key. As the goal of living a healthy lifestyle is to have better health, the goal of Agile Transformation has to keep being agile, resilient, responsive, innovating, and continuously improving. Changing the mindset is the most important thing. The practices can't possibly work without that change. Agile is a state of mind based on a set of values and principles. Getting the understanding that for Agile to work, it needs to be cultural, not an imposed afterthought. Ultimately, all aspects of the enterprise from strategic planning to the most atomic level tasks must embrace agile for optimal effect.


Very interesting. At Entity we're an IM company - we've written a book called Crossing the Data Delta, and interestingly enough also use Digital Agility as a phrase. And we very much come down on the cultural side of the argument - i.e. people and process are as, if not more important than the technology / implementation. And yes - hybrid organisations do exist.

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