How to Create an Agile Organisation - Part 2: Barriers to Agility

In our last post we looked at the three key characteristics of an agile organisation: embrace the power of teams, rapid responsive and customer value focused.

In this post, we look at the big things that are stopping organisations making these characteristics part of their DNA. North Highland has worked with clients across industries and have found that the same challenges crop up time and time again.

High performing organisations operate very differently today than they did 10 years ago. Outdated behaviours, restrictive practices and sluggish systems are holding many companies back. The pursuit of agility is a big one, and will require fundamental changes to elements of the organisation that may have got them to where they are today. Leaders have to be committed to wholesale change to break down these barriers and transform to survive in a digital age.

So, what’s stopping you?

Here’s our take on the big things that are putting the brakes on progress.

Outdated Behaviours

  1. “Command and Control” Leadership. It just doesn’t work in agile organisations. You’ll slow things down and disempower your people. Your leaders need be a living example of the organisation you’re trying to create - not shouting a decree down the chain that they don’t do themselves!
  2. That’s not my job. Narrow, fixed job descriptions and the mentality that a person is hired only to do a specific thing makes a flexible workforce and poly-skilling really hard. Build a culture where your people know they have a job to turn up to, but that it’ll flex depending on what they want, what the customer wants and what the most valuable work that needs doing is.
  3. Managing your people. Try coaching your people instead. Telling them what to do won’t get the best out of them and certainly won’t grow talent. Shift from task management to helping them learn and grow in order to achieve their own (and the organisation’s) goals.

Restrictive Practices

  1. Controlling Governance. Governance should enable change, not control it. Things like yearly funding cycles, waterfall stage gate processes and 5 year portfolio plans will hold your agile transformation back. Work with your colleagues across the business, especially in procurement and finance, to identify small changes you can trial and learn from. We’ve found that introducing quarterly reassessment checkpoints into funding cycles is often a good first step.
  2. Supplier Mentality. Seeing other organisations you work with just as suppliers,  rather than partners, probably means that you’ve got inflexible contracts and misaligned outcomes. Work with your partners to make your success their success, bring them into your culture and take their people on the transformation journey too, build options into contracts so that you can change things when they aren’t working for you both.

Sluggish Systems

  1. Old infrastructure. We all know it’s an issue, and it’s still holding many organisations back. Legacy infrastructure can stop you testing and making changes quickly, or making the most of some of the new technologies out there. Talk to your budget holders about the cost of inaction and explore options to replace legacy with cloud solutions.
  2. Aversion to automation. Automation doesn’t directly equal job losses. It frees up your engineers to focus on interesting challenges that excite them and deliver value for the business. Set up rules about how many times a task can be performed before the next logical step is to automate that work. Whilst there might be an initial overhead at the point of automation, this will improve output over time and reduce the chance of human error.

Making it happen.

Think about plotting your organisation’s challenges on two axes: difficulty and impact. Start with the low difficulty and high impact changes to show that change can happen. Then tackle some high difficulty and high impact changes to show that you’re serious about making agility part of your DNA.

These things aren’t easy, but they are important. You’ll need senior people in the business on board to make change happen, as well as your teams to make change stick.

Our final post of the series “How to Create an Agile Organisation” will explore the five culture characteristics of agile organisations. Click here to read part one. Click here to read part three.