How to make your company more dynamic, flexible and efficient

Thorsten Scheller illuminates all facets of agility in his book “Auf dem Weg zur agilen Organisation”. 

For a long time, companies were regarded as permanently stable and products and projects were adapted to the company structure.

 In a time when many rapid, unpredictable changes happen, it is no longer suitable and, in some cases, impossible to adapt the products to the company. Instead, aligning the products with the customers’ needs is necessary.

 This prerequisite is a corresponding attitude and a new understanding of roles. Companies with fixed organisational structures that lack adaptability are under increasing pressure in this uncertain environment.

 The first chapter deals with the unique features of the VUKA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), in which there are no fixed rules, no certainties and no recognisable connections, i.e. in a world in which everything is possible and in which today one thing could turn out to be the case and tomorrow the opposite. 

  • Volatility refers to fluctuations within a short period, e.g. in prices, rates or entire markets, which are neither foreseeable nor predictable.
  • Uncertainty refers to a lack of knowledge, uncertainty, and ambiguity – in other words, a state fraught with unknown risk. Causal cause-effect relationships are known, but not their probabilities of occurrence.
  • Complexity means that it is not possible to recognise inner connections through analysis. One has to break it down into individual parts to analyse a system. Suppose a complex system is broken down into its components. In that case, precisely that part of the properties created by the interconnectedness of the individual parts is lost through the breaking down. In addition, these complex systems are also adaptive, i.e. they show a unique ability to adapt to their environment and can learn (from experience).
  • Ambiguity is a condition in which the causal cause-effect relationships are unknown.

So what is the answer to the requirements of the VUKA world? Agility – “adapting through fast learning”. Agility means adaptability, i.e. reacting flexibly to environmental influences and ensure the survival of the company by increasing adaptability.

Methodologically, it can be moved forward in the VUKA world with small steps in the form of experiments and through rapid subsequent reflection. Agile approaches are understood as an iterative and incremental process: step by step and building on each other, a product or service is created in close cooperation and involvement of the customer.

Prerequisite for agility

 “Just applying agile methods does not make you agile!”

 To be able to take the step into agility, an agile mindset is necessary. This usually requires a culture change. Trust and responsibility form the basis for cooperation, and along with this, a new understanding of roles must be established and space created for creativity. 

 The agile mindset also presupposes that a positive, anti-tayloristic view of people prevails. Ways for others, new solutions are opened up, and self-determined, meaningful work comes to the fore. The failure of agile projects often lies in the fact that this cultural change has not been implemented or has only been partially implemented. 

 The basis for all these considerations is the Agile Manifesto, which was adopted in 2001 by 17 software development experts. It defines agile values and agile principles. Although this manifesto focused on the software industry, the contents apply to other brainwork areas.

Agile values – the foundation for Agility

Four agile values form the foundation for agile and relate to the three areas: People, Product and Adaptability. 

  1. Focus on people: Individuals and interactions have priority over processes and tools. Smoothly functioning processes form the basis of this value, but at the same time, the focus is on the individual needs of the employees and the customer.
  2. Cooperation with the client takes precedence over contract negotiations. A contract can only be the basis for cooperation. The performance can only occur in an appreciative interaction between clients and staff.
  3. The functioning performance takes precedence over extended documentation. The focus here is on performance. Customers buy the product and not the documentation. Nevertheless, documentation is essential to trace what was done, when, why and how.
  4. Reacting to change has priority over strictly following the plan. Disruptions have priority! In a complex context, it is no longer possible to implement a created plan 1:1. Agility means planning very clearly, but constantly adapting to what is happening.

Agile principles

 In addition to the agile values, the Agile Manifesto also contains the 12 agile principles based on agile values. As guiding principles for agile work, they assist in practical work. 

  • Principle1: The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through valuable performance. This is to be delivered as early as possible in order also to be able to learn from the customer’s feedback.
  • Principle 2: Changes in requirements must be incorporated even at a late stage of development to support the customer’s competitiveness.
  • Principle 3: To create the service as close as possible to the customer, functioning service is delivered quickly and concisely.
  • Principle 4: Subject matter experts and developers must work daily to find the best solution for the customer.
  • Principle 5: The motivation of employees is an essential factor. An appropriate environment must be created for this.
  • Principle 6: All forms of communication within a team are constantly encouraged.
  • Principle 7: Functioning performance is an essential prerequisite for progress.
  • Principle 8: Sustainable development is achieved through a pace of work that all stakeholders can sustain over time.
  • Principle 9: Excellence in technical solutions and design should be sought.
  • Principle 10: The art is to focus on the essentials and create only what is needed.
  • Principle 11: Self-organised teams form the best basis for the best solutions.
  • Principle 12: A continuous improvement process is ensured through constant reflection and adaptation.

The last part of the book deals with the practical implementation of how to bring agility into the company. Various tools and methods are presented for this purpose.

 Agility does not fit every type of company. Agility is the only answer to the uncertain situation for companies in complex environments. Of course, there are no copyable recipes; this would virtually contradict the principle of agility.

 Every organisation has to find its own, very particular way.

 Waltraud Ferz-Steinbauer has read and reviewed this book for you.

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