Can the 21st century corporation operate without agile, wondered Steve Denning at the blog of Forbes magazine recently. The question contrasts with the doubt about the applicability of agile development that we often hear in traditional companies.
The true revolutionaries
The Australian management thinker makes a very valid and important point: it is not the technology that drives the new industrial revolution. Technology, such as the Internet of Things, enables this revolution. The real revolutionaries are those companies using the new technology to build new business models that may disrupt traditional markets and industries. “It’s not the technology that makes the difference. It’s the different management mindset,” writes Steve. These companies move swiftly and explorative – they have an agile behaviour.
In many traditional automotive organisations the mindset is that the companies “operating system” must be preserved, as a sign of stability. We agree that this an acceptable strategy that has shown a lot of success – as long as the business model and the market remain stable. Steve continues: “Trying to exploit digital technology or the Internet with the management practices of hierarchical bureaucracy that is pervasive in big corporations today is like driving a horse and buggy on the freeway.”
From intellectual property to continuous innovation
Innovation and speed are hampered by the traditional commands and control culture according to Steve. This traditional culture is IP oriented due to a mind-set restricted by the boundaries of traditional divisions. Howevery, IP is retrospective: My IP is what I thought and did yesterday. Relevant for the future is my capability to continually innovate, to continually create new IP.
The future is about the customer experience
Our “Software drives” report clearly identifies delivering the right customer experience as the key prerequisite for success in the new economy. The recommended route to achieving the appropriate capability was via transforming to an agile organisation, most of the study participants agreed.
Based on his experience Steve concurs with this: “The Agile mindset is quite different. Its purpose is to delight customers. Making money is the result, not the goal of its activities. Its focus is on continuous innovation. Its dynamic is enablement, rather than control. It coordinates work with structured, iterative, customer-focused practices. … It is oriented to understanding and creating the future.”
For Steve agile is not just another development approach. It is the mindset, the culture of the organisation. This culture develops around new structures of communication and working – working together rather than beside each other.
For those in the automotive industry who are gingerly taking their first steps on the road to the agile organisation, it should be comforting that others are finding that agility delivers on its promises. Plenty of case studies exist. Study the examples, connect to companies – in whatever domain – who have successfully transformed themselves and learn from them. TheLearning Consortium for the Creative Economy is one approach.
But you can start smaller. And start experimenting with lifting rigidity in communication structures in your organisation. Different groups in your organisation should not feel like being on separate planets. Establish simple communication practices, such as open retrospectives, and keep repeating them. You can start this in any area of your company. It will provide immediate benefit through communal learning and it will change the culture.