BUSINESS AGILITY: Evan Leybourn, founder of the Business Agility Institute and Conference, has been screaming into the void about Business Agility, and the void is finally screaming back.  Evan is building a strong community around business agility across diverse industries, and plans to reclaim business agility from the consultants and marketing folks that keep using the buzzword.

Evan sat down with Bob Payne of the Agile Toolkit podcast to discuss.

How do you define Business Agility?  How do we de-buzzword it?

Hearing so many stories, I came to the position that we don’t want a definition.  In this formative stage of Business Agility around the world, whatever definition we put on it is going to limit its ability to be more things to more people, and right now I think that’s more important.

What we did is we actually put together a Model of Business Agility, about 60 of us working with the community on all the different domains and dimensions that make up Business Agility.  I think that is a better way of visualizing the totality of what it is rather than a sound byte.

Outcomes: In the context of software delivery, Agile has been only about the build for a long time and misses the mark of real outcomes for customers, stakeholders, etc…

I like to talk about changing the questions. It’s not about what something costs, it’s about what something is worth.  It’s about putting the customer at the center of what you do.  If your KPIs are about earning money, about revenue, you’re missing the point. The intent behind why we’re in business is often forgotten.

An Agile organization is one that has clear measures and KPIs around why they are in business and customer intent.  If you address the customer’s need effectively and efficiently, and the customer likes what you’re doing, and your reason for existing is sound, customers and profits will come.  Traditional organizations measure the wrong thing.  Agile organizations measure the business-customer outcome.  That’s a very clear distinction.

What does Business Agility look like?

I’ve been working with industries from banking to mining to retail to IT.  Business Agility is relevant to everyone, it is the next generation of company models.  We talk about matrix organizations, that’s the 1980s mindset.  We now that these Agile organizations, dynamic and structured in a way that teams own outcomes.  In fact, in the Business Agility model, one of the key domains is structural agility, and that’s incredibly important. If an organization doesn’t have the right structure, it’s actually going to lose its ability to be Agile.  Every time there’s a handoff, every time that a team is created around a function, it loses its ability to be agile.  An Agile organization is one that aligns work and teams to outcomes.  If you have clear organizational outcomes, broken down into achievable outcomes by teams, once you have these ideas of “We’re going to change the world of work” or “We’re going to get rid of diabetes,” whatever your vision is, we can break that down into outcomes.  You might have very tangible ones like “We want to be a great place to work” – how do you measure that?  Retention, staff satisfaction.. and once we have the measures and a proper outcome profile, measures, KPIs, cadence of the measures, feedback loop.. let’s create a team that fundamentally works on that outcome.  Literally cross-functional.  I can bring accountants, BAs, developers, and engineers, into a single team if they have the right skills to achieve that business outcome.  Once you have that team, and the team is owning and accountable, I don’t care what they do.  The work and projects that they build are irrelevant.  (That’s not strictly speaking true…it’s actually very important)  But, at an organizational level, that’s not my responsibility anymore.  As an organization, it’s that team who owns that outcome and that feedback cycle of continuously doing all that is necessary to achieve that business outcome.

What big changes have you seen in your client base as you support more companies from a non-IT background?  Where is Business Agility taking root for your clients? 

There’s a continuous change that’s occurring, the evolution of a continuous culture that has emerged around the world.  This idea of continuous change, continuous feedback, continuous delivery, continuous everything.  Companies that are able to work in this model are fundamentally able to be Agile, to be an Agile company.  Traditional companies that have not had that mindset are being disrupted by this continuous culture and change.  They are the ones who are most likely, most in need of making this transition toward business agility.  So from an industry perspective, Banking and Finance is huge right now. When we do their organizational strategy and we help them define their key business outcomes, and we look at “Who are your competitors?”  They don’t say other banks. their competitors are Google, Apple, Alibaba.  These are not even secondary competitors, these are their primary fear-based “we are terrified of these companies.”

Software is eating the world, and every company is becoming a digital company.  There are banks out there saying we want to be a digital bank, or an agile bank.  I’ve worked with companies, financial institutions, where the traditional functional structure of IT and Business has gone.  They have gotten rid of the IT team- because all of the developers now sit in the business.  So, I own a credit card function, the credit card product, and have 20 developers and BAs and testers working in my team, because technology is now the business.  There’s still an IT thin slice around the infrastructure, because that does tend to be common, but everything else, pass that into the business and own that in.  Even if you don’t fully restructure towards fully agile outcome teams, this reducing the amount of handoff, this idea of i’m a business function I shall write my requirements and pass it off to you, dear IT please build this for me, those days are gone.  It is now this continuous change of value and value creation.  The closer you can make those lines of communication, and it doesn’t get much closer than the same team, the better.


LitheSpeed is a corporate member of the Business Agility Institute.  Explore the Business Agility Institute to get involved with the global community.