Agility – A Critical Aspiration and a (Mostly) Useless Vendor Claim

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The first time I remember hearing about the need for businesses to focus on agility was at a Forrester Executive Forum in the late '90s/early '00s.  I think an analyst named Michael Bell kicked off the session with a video of Barry Sanders.  It was the best metaphor for agility I've seen and it still stands.  He talked about how Sanders would change direction without losing speed--in fact sometimes it seemed like he was accelerating. But here we are 20 years or so later and the discussion remains the same.  (As a side note, I first started working to understand customer experience in the same time frame--working with the Patricia Seybold Group.   The CX discussion also largely remains the same.)     The never ending quest for agility Last week, on they day before Thanskgiving, I skipped my usual reposting of an older Gartner post and started a discussion on agility.   It's worth a read -  It started with me asking what agility really means in terms of speed of change.    I asked this because I've seen vendors claim they enable agility when they provide tools to change processes or programs, even if that takes a full testing/deployment cycle that can range into days or weeks.  Others talk about making on the fly changes to rules or configurations and seeing the impact immediately. [caption id="attachment_2667" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Source: Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels[/caption] After the discussion, I was left feeling a few things: Agility should be an aspiration of every business.  The agility goals will vary for all businesses, but it is about being able to adjust direction, without losing momentum, as fast as possible. Agility is about people, process, technology, AND culture.   I'm not usually a fan of people, process, technology angles--as they seem obvious, but it applies here.    The thing people have been leaving out is culture and mindset.   Without the right culture and a growth mindset, agility is largely a dream. And finally, agility is a meaningless claim for any product. That last one deserves a bit more time.   Early in the discussion, I had a impulse reaction to ban the term agility from my vocabulary in 2021, but as the discussion grew, I really should have said that agility should be banned as an angle of differentiation (unless you are directly addressing culture as part of your "solution" approach) or even a value claim. Think about it. Would any product in 2020 and beyond make the claim "Our product helps you be less agile."    It would never happen.   Therefore, anyone can claim their products make you more agile.   They would be fabricating a bit (see above..a product alone does not make you agile), but it is a claim everyone can make. Several years ago, there was a blog post in HBR about strategy (link).  The simple idea.   To test any strategy, assess whether the opposite strategy is still valid.    Let's say you are Dell when they were starting up.  Their strategy--sell directly to consumers.   The opposite of that--sell through resellers--was valid.   See how it works? Now, would anyone truly build a business around limiting agility?  Its a flawed strategy. In 2021, I'm going to push back on clients that are playing the agility card in their messaging.  There has to be something else.   Or, you'll have to show me the connection to culture in your go-to-market models.   Tell me how companies become more agile with your products, not that you magically enable agility. Warning issued.  

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