Understanding Agility

Like many popular business concepts, “agility” is overused to the point of meaninglessness. Here’s a way to think about agility in a more precise and practical way.

1. To survive and thrive, companies need to manage product/market S-Curves.

2. Managing along an S-Curve involves 5 distinct team-based challenges: recombinant innovation; business model innovation; continuous improvement; product/market innovation; and the eventual release and redeployment of assets.

3. The challenges can take place with multiple teams in parallel across the business.

4. All of these challenges involve developing the “dynamic capability” of teams to design and guide complex collaborations.

5. This “dynamic capability” involves the ability to design processes of learning by doing. These processes are designed around rapid Design-Do cycles.

6. Double loop learning is embedded in these cycles. With double loop learning the team regularly evaluates the evidence from experiments (the doing) and questions their underlying assumptions and behavioral bases. They ask questions such as: Why did this effort fail? What assumptions are we making? Are we heading in the right direction? Have our intuitions shifted based on the evidence we are accumulating?

A business is “agile” when teams within the business can meet these various challenges through effective collaboration both inside the business and with external partners.