Agility As A Strategy

As a tactic, agility is an enabler. As a strategy, agility is a competitive advantage.

To maintain competitive advantage over the long term, organizations must aspire to move faster than the market around them, both in terms of the speed of day-to-day decision-making and the rate of their capability development over time. High clock speed organizations embrace experimentation, constant iteration, and fast decision-making. Moving at high clock speed requires agility—not as a software-development discipline, but as a management philosophy.

Many companies see agility as applying only to the IT department, which is where the concept was first established. Other companies understand that agility applies more broadly beyond IT, but tend to apply it in an ad hoc fashion to individual projects. A small minority of high clock-speed organizations, however, see agility not simply as a tactic or an enabler, but as a strategic goal in its own right.

Elevating agility to a strategic C-suite objective fosters a cultural change that ripples through the whole organization. It changes the mindset from thinking of projects as discreet events to thinking of them as part of a greater journey toward a more responsive and efficient organization. Organizations that adopt agility as a core strategic tenet worry about the basic underlying assets that allow them to iterate and learn faster. They invest in enabling capabilities that many organizations see as high cost with uncertain returns. Agile organizations realize these investments de-bottleneck everything they do, and create byproducts from ongoing projects that make future change faster and easier.

Building your strategy around agility itself is a very different thing than simply adopting agility as an enabler of your strategy. It recognizes that in a fast-changing marketplace, your speed of adaptation as a business is a more valuable long-term asset than your specific reactions to the situation of the day. In this paradigm, agility is fundamentally a leadership responsibility. It affects everything about how an organization runs and what it values. Achieving agility in business is a good thing. But embracing agility as top-three strategic priority increases the odds of long-term success in an increasingly complex world.

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