Nimble or stable, complex or simple? Legacy businesses don’t need to make these choices if they are truly agile

Non-digitally native companies can benefit greatly from having a better understanding of agile methods which may help them thrive in uncertain environments.
58 min.
May 2021

How can we color in the full rainbow of agile methods across an organization, instead of restricting ourselves to a limited color palette?

This was one of the questions posed and answered by Professor Stéphane J.G. Girod at his webinar “Rolling out and scaling agile methods (more) successfully”.

Why “more”, you may ask? The answer was confirmed in the webinar’s poll: 42% of participants felt “neutral” about the outcome of agile methods in their firms against 30% who were satisfied or very satisfied with them. This survey is consistent with outside studies.

Then why bother with using them in the first place? Because, when correctly understood, agile methods have the ability to transform organizations.

How can non-digitally native companies adapt to today’s uncertainty?

Legacy, non-digitally native business have the tall order of adapting to today’s uncertainty as provoked by digital transformation, blurring industry boundaries and a whole host of new entrants coming onto the scene with their new business models in tow.

In Girod’s forthcoming book with Martin Králik, Resetting Management, he looks at agility on three levels: strategy, leadership and organizational. And in this webinar he touches on how to achieve the latter.

We learn that there are three major pitfalls companies fall into when trying to be agile on an organizational level.

Pitfall #1:  Failing to balance the two ends of agility’s various scales

We learn in the webinar that, in their rush to imitate startups, legacy companies rush to increase their nimbleness and to benefit from the simplification of the hierarchy and bureaucracy that agile methods can bring.

However, if they forget to ground the organization in clear strategic objectives, fail to focus on delivering with performance and accountability, or if they force fit agile methods without really thinking which one is needed and where, the whole thing unravels.

In other words, the more companies can strike a balance between being stable and nimble, complex and simple, the more agile they can pronounce themselves.

In doing so, established companies – or “legacy businesses” – have to “use the benefit of their scale and where they come from. They are not start ups,” Girod says.

The challenge in understanding this, and thereby finding agility’s sweet spot, is that there is a great misunderstanding of agility.

“You need nimbleness as much as you do stability,” Girod says, describing how you cannot force a blanket approach to agility across a company. “You may need design thinking here, the SCRUM model there. And there’s a certain degree of complexity in making these choices.”

Fast-paced environments often don’t offer enough time for learning or for transferring learning experiences to making other projects successful. If you empower employees but don’t give them access to data transparency, there’s no point in it.”

Pitfall #2: Overlooking the implications of how leaders decide to roll out agile methods

Girod talked about three different ways leaders can choose to roll out agile methodologies, and the pros and cons of each. The bottom line? Anticipate the challenges to come in each case.

For instance, using the example of LEGO, Girod talks about the benefits, but unexpected challenges too, of implementing agile methods in one division of the company.

LEGO’s digital solutions division was created several years ago using various agile methods to make LEGO available 24/7 to customers and to create new customer journeys for customers.

“The benefit of rolling these methods out in one part of the company is that you can measure progress rapidly and bring people up to speed very quickly. But then comes the challenge of how to manage the interface with non-digital parts of the company, and how to overcome the bottlenecks that come about,” explains Girod.

Pitfall #3: Assuming you need to follow an agile method for greater agility

Did you know you don’t need to do agile to be agile? That’s one of this webinar’s takeaways to go home and chew on.

“Pressures to adapt quickly might not be so high in luxury companies, say, given their high financial reserves when compared to banks,” states Girod.

On this topic, his comparisons between ING and Clarins, with whom he works closely, are enlightening.

While not all firms use overtly agile methodology, many show signs of balancing the following: a clear vision with attending to customer needs; employee discipline with employee empowerment; and organizational simplicity with keeping one eye on where simplicity has no role to play. And ultimately, this is the essence of agility.


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