Business Agility 2017 in New York – Day 1 Review

February was the month selected for the first Business Agility Conference. In the core, authentic short stories and deep dive sessions focusing on organization design, marker disruption, product innovation and agile leadership. I want to share some highlights from both days that have caught my attention as well some interesting insights after eight deep dive sessions.

Introducing Business Agility

Steve Denning has opened up the conference with a very powerful insight: Agile is a mindset. That is it! In addition, Steve has explained about the friction that exist when you try to move forward with your agile team surrounded by a ton of bureaucracy making all transformation efforts being not sustainable.  He has shared stories from big tech companies that have embraced agile in the core (mindset) and now these companies are thriving their way focusing on delighting customers. Using the Copernican example to illustrate how clients becomes the center of every decisions, Steve highlighted the importance of the agile culture that enable companies to move from a centric view to client centric view,  surrounding their clients looking for ways to inspect and adapt their strategies into tactical plans that are based 100% on client’s needs.

Phil Abernathy has presented the maze and madness! Great insights on how structuring your business for agility. In other words, get rid of the madness and the maze! Phil has provided thoughts and examples on how such business structure looks like. First, understand the size and complexity of your maze:  several hierarchical levels cross management systems, dozens of communication layers and complex metric systems. Then, here we are!  Lost in the maze, trying to find maze runners that can help in finding the way out. The outputs (not outcomes)? Spending millions on isolated transformation initiatives, new buzz leadership roles and new departments organized in the same way but with fancy names and the madness is back again. Phil proposes a structured way to understand the impacts (unhappy customers, shareholders, and employees), symptoms and then the real root causes (complex organization structure, lack of trust and transparency, leadership talent). Start with big goals such as 40% reduction of time to market, 70 to 500% cycle time improvement, 30% cost reduction then test your hypotheses via pilots, inspect and adapt, course corrections and make it big from the core.

Agile Organization Design

Stephen Parry presented thoughts on designing organizations that work for lean and agile thinking people. Mr.  Parry did an analogy of climate changes and its impacts on landscape. In other words, the nature adapts to survive and remodel its structure for prosperity.  Then as we cannot control climate changes, the same rationale applies to business organizations. Business climates may drive the behaviors that shapes the organizational landscapes that will allow performance and long-term profitability but it does happen from night to day. In order to make it for real you must focus on adaptive business actions: engaging, learning, leading and improving.

Governance & Strategy

From a strategy perspective, great insights from Scott Ambler in emphasizing the complex and complicated scenarios nowadays. For complex scenarios, the logic part is that cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect; the main actions are probe, sense and respond and the strategy management is bottom up with quarterly cycle. In the other hand, in complicated scenarios, the logic part is that cause and effect can be known given enough data & analysis; the main actions are analyze, predict and plan and the strategy management is top-down, plan and control with 3 to 5 year cycle. Understand your business scenario and adjust accordingly but please pay extra attention to the emerging complexity in client relationships and business value creation.  The usage of a meaningful OKR (Objective Key Results) helps to drive the adaptive mindset across the whole business.

Bjarte Bognes went beyond budgeting for business agility and C-level understanding. Based on his own experience, Mr. Bognes walked us through the adaptive management model covering the following:

Leadership principles:

  • Purpose: Engage people around noble causes; not around short-terms financial targets.
  • Values: Govern and lead through shared values; not through detailed rules.
  • Transparency: Make information open for self-regulation, learning and innovation.
  • Organization: Cultivate a strong sense of belonging; avoid hierarchical control and bureaucracy.
  • Autonomy: Trust people with freedom to act
  • Customers: Connect everyone’s work with client needs; avoid conflicts of interest.

Management processes:

  • Rhythm: Organize management processes dynamically around business rhythm and events.
  • Targets: Set directional, ambitious and relative goals; avoid cascaded and fixe goals.
  • Plans and forecasts: Make planning and forecasting lean and light; not rigid.
  • Resource allocation: Foster a cost conscious mind-set and make resource available as needed; not through detailed annual budget allocation.
  • Performance evaluations: Evaluate performance holistically and with peer feedback for learning.
  • Rewards: Reward shared success against competition; not against fixed performance contracts.

If you want to learn, you can look for his book on Amazon: Implementing Beyond Budgeting: Unlocking the performance Potential by Bjarte Bogsnes.

Leadership & Empowerment

Nick Horney did present the five major contributors for Leadership Agility Fitness™  – The Agile Model:

  1. Anticipate Change,
  2. Generate Confidence,
  3. Initiate Action,
  4. Liberate Thinking ,
  5. Evaluate Results.

Here some pictures from the deep dive sessions 🙂


Stay tuned for day 2 review. Be safe! Raf


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