Designing For Agility. Not Just Speed.

Agility is increasingly moving from being an ad hoc approach used for capturing an emerging opportunity in app development to becoming a core capability in maintaining competitiveness. We are in a continuous and disruptive market environment that can be best characterized as volatile, uncertain, and moving at breakneck speeds of change. To keep up with this, innovation needs to happen in ultra shorter cycles and must scale at the same speed. Long gone are 12-24 months of planning cycles. Now, product development must be driven by the current impact that various factors are having on users and the market ecosystems. Organizations must be able to react quickly—but for large enterprises, this is almost impossible.

Agility in itself is not the magic solution. Moving fast is one thing, but being able to create rapid learning cycles is key. That requires different organization design, team structures, problem framing, and solution approaches without losing touch with the user or customers. Agility alone can lead to fast movement, but it limits the ability to see what’s going on, while traditional strategy planning can lead to watching others moving quickly while sitting in a stationary armchair.

Bringing agility into an organization is not a technology-based plan, nor is it a week of executive education and reading a few books. It involves some very fundamental shifts of how an organization works and creates value and takes action. In particular, it needs to move quickly into large-scale deployment, which requires proper design practices and discipline.

Agility is not only for technology development either. It can be applied to almost any strategic initiative, whether it’s a large-scale digital transformation, a new venture development, or customer experience deployment. Historically, 70-80% of large-scale strategic transformations failed or stalled at some stage. The factors that caused them to fail include an inability to deliver original value propositions, misalignment with key stakeholders, an inability to catch up with the pace of external change, closing competence gaps too slowly, and poor execution.

Strategic agility must become a core part of any enterprise’s capability, but there are considerations to be made on how agility should be built and developed by a special tactical unit (such as innovation labs) or how to widely deploy within all functions and units. The combination of speed and agility with design thinking is the key to winning—not raw speed alone.