​12 keys to creating an adaptable and agile organisation

IT chiefs discuss what is necessary to create a sustain a culture of adaptability and agility

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In a fast changing and competitive global marketplace, the need for enterprises to act with adaptability and agility is more important than ever. This premise has developed as a recent ‘buzz’ and a highlighted trend across organisations but the beliefs have a long history of importance.

In his book Tao Te Ching, author Lao Tzu stated:

The stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome

These principles are just as valid in IT organisations today as when Lao Tzu spoke them generations ago. I spoke to three Australian IT chiefs to discuss what is necessary to create and sustain a culture of adaptability and agility.

Below are the 12 keys based on my conversations with PwC Australia CIO, Hilda Clune; RMIT CIO Paul Oppenheimer; and the Office of the Government CIO WA executive director , IT strategy and delivery, Stuart Gibbon.

1. Minimise the distance to the source of problems

Oppenheimer states that we must minimise the distance between the problems that occur or the solutions that are required and those who work on or solve them. The more layers or space between them the more bogged down we become and the less agile we can be.

2. Don’t fixate on requirements

Oppenheimer says the moment the IT group becomes fixed on requirements, the game is lost. Thinking from a technology requirements mindset gets us stuck as a supplier at the bottom of the IT maturity curve.

3. Develop a mindset of accepting the unknown

We like things to be known, it’s in our nature as humans. We are comfortable when we know what to expect and there is clarity, certainty, and predictability. The only certainty is that change is inevitable. We must develop the attitudes in ourselves and our team to thrive in the unknown.

4. Use sprints to ensure the most logical use of capacity and time

According to Oppenheimer, using sprints is a very effective method of supporting agility. Set short term objectives and target your resources at them to achieve them quickly, he says. Think of your journey as a series of short term sprints that allow for adjustments in between them as opposed to one long and steady marathon.

5. Be enterprise-focused

WA Office of the Government CIO’s Gibbon states we must remember to keep an enterprise-level focus. This requires to us to adopt client-based language. The attitude of ‘us versus them’ must be eliminated within IT and across the organisation. It is about a partnership and not a supply chain relationship.

6. Ensure the purpose of agility is clear

“Agility for agility’s sake only belongs in a circus,” Gibbon says. There must a goal, outcome or purpose that we are trying to reach when acting with agility. We have an endpoint in mind and take an agile and adaptable approach to getting there, he says.

7. Understand your boundaries

While we are building our adaptable organisations, we must also set boundaries as to where applying these principles would be detrimental and not support achieving our enterprise objective. Perhaps not following generally accepted accounting procedures in regards to our financial statements wouldn’t be an area to apply being adaptable.

8. Create a culture of corporate courageousness

Gibbon says “forward moving organisations reward success while stagnant organisations punish failure.” We must develop a positive view of failure. Fail fast, learn, adjust and act again. Failing small early will support larger success later.

9. Think about experience first

PwC’s Clune states we must think from the experience we are creating first. Is the experience we are creating integrated? Is it intuitive? Is it clear and does is support working with each other?

10. Go beyond solving the moment

Clune adds that we must be thinking from the future. We must create platforms that go beyond solving the moment. For adaptability and agility, the foundations of what we create must have the ability to evolve along with the organisation.

11. Create a broad adoption strategy

The goal of the adoption strategy is to have people and technology come together at every level where we look at our space and technology as one and not separately. We utilise ‘follow me anywhere’ technology to support collaboration for the organisation, says Clune.

12. Build an ecosystem

The role that technology plays in creating an organisational environment is more important in the future than it has ever been in the past. We must upskill our people and teams to thrive inside the new space that is created.

The culture of agility and adaptability that we create in the ecosystem must eliminate the idea of technology transformation versus ecosystem transformation and progress with the understanding that they are one in the same.

Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with over 35,000 people to create high performance organisations, teams and individuals.

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Tags agileRMITPwC AustraliaIT maturity curveHilda CluneStuart GibbonTao Te ChingPaul OppenheimerLaz TzuOffice of the Government CIO WA

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