The Truth About Being Agile

15 May

We all strive for it and it features prominently in our business cases as the hallowed ground that will be reached ‘if you just sign off on this next program…’ However, a very small number, possibly even a single digit percentage of organisations are truly agile.

Agility.  noun.

  • ability to move quickly and easily.
  • ability to think and understand quickly.

Why is agility to hard to achieve? Well the answer is staring us in the face and it’s quite confronting. First let me tell you a wee story of how I learnt what being agile really meant.

Many years ago I desperately wanted to buy a house, a place to call my own. So I started looking in all of the suburbs that appealed at homes that I liked the look of or that I thought might suit (read: afford). Subsequently I was dashing off to open homes, putting in offers and time after time I was pipped at the post or came up short. I thought this house buying malarkey was easy, I had a deposit and there were plenty of homes up for grabs so why wasn’t it working out? It just didn’t compute.

I turned to a friend of mine who had a great track record in property and asked for some tips. Here’s what he told me:

  • Pick one suburb and research it to death – know every street, park, school, history, everything about it (subject matter expertise)
  • Go to every single open home in that suburb regardless of the price bracket or appeal of the property (know your market)
  • Read about the do’s and don’ts of home buying via his well-thumbed copy of a book written by a prominent local real estate expert (broaden your horizons)
  • Get to know a lawyer and a builder or even better a building inspector and go with them when they do some inspections to learn what they look for and how they work (strategic partnering)
  • Calculate your maximum affordability based on your credit limit AND your ability to service a mortgage. Then have you finance pre-approved ready to be drawn down (financial acumen)
  • Lastly tell the local real-estate brokers exactly what you are after and that you are a cash buyer (strategic sourcing)

I’m sure you are starting to see where this is heading. Up to this point I had placed no fewer than fourteen offers on properties and lost every single one. Looking back now I clearly see why. I had the basic outline of the home buying process, but I was throwing hail-mary’s – placing offers late in the process across properties in multiple suburbs without having my house in order.

Roughly two weeks after following my friends instructions (to the letter) an agent called me and told me that he had a place coming available, it wasn’t listed yet and would I like to take a look? The minute I set eyes on it I know it was the one. It ticked all my boxes, was in the right position, in the right area, I was first to it and I placed a cash offer on the spot. It was a great deal. I acted with agility because; I was very prepared, had done all my homework, research and knowledge gathering. I won – finally.

Business is exactly the same, and I mean EXACTLY. You can trundle along as a mature business making perfectly acceptable money, prominent in your arena. Great brand, good turn over and culture – but not crushing it. And here’s a tip, putting ‘agile’ into your next business case or proclaiming that you’ve sent some staff on a course and are now an ‘agile’ organisation isn’t going to cut it either. Gaining true agility, the kind that stacks the odds embarrassingly in your favour is hard work. I define it as converting from maturity  to mastery. As I demonstrated above there is a distinct difference. I’d placed 14 offers so was familiar with the process as a mature buyer but the additional steps required to master my market made all the difference, allowing me to act with immediacy, agility and confidence. They didn’t stand a chance.

A lot of the time when I start working with an organisation I’m astounded how few fundamentals are in place. Many of the gaps are:

  • Business strategy is just goals and visions
  • IT Strategy isn’t linked to business strategy for the above reason
  • A gap in the demand management process to understand what your markets needs/wants are and reflect these into the product and service catalogue
  • Marketing activity isn’t linked to key conversion measurements and an ROI
  • Sales activity metrics either aren’t gathered or a poorly understood as a professional discipline
  • The unique value proposition of the organisation and its products or services aren’t linked to the value delivery phase of the client experience, nor measured
  • Lastly financial activity and reporting is retrospectively focussed and lacking heart-beat management dashboards and insights

If you are deficient in many of the above but trundling along profitably then you may have a mature business but you are far from demonstrating mastery and are certainly not agile.

Being agile isn’t glamorous. Being agile means having your house in order (all of it) so when you are faced with a hurdle or an opportunity you can act quickly and with confidence. Agility = Mastery and the path requires hard work and humility. Most organisations have all the pieces of the puzzle but have misplaced the instructions.

If you want to be agile and wield power over your competitors bordering on being an unfair advantage then get in touch, I can help. It’s not necessarily a fast process but if you don’t start now that puzzle isn’t ever going to put itself together.



James Dickinson


Image sourced from Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash 

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