The Biggest Agile Startup on Earth: GE Beliefs & FastWorks

The Biggest Agile Startup on Earth:  GE Beliefs & FastWorks

When the big dogs weigh in, you know something big is happening!  They don’t come much bigger than GE, which makes everything from aircraft engines to washing machines!

If you thought Agile was just for software companies, departments or functions, in the form of “Agile Software Development”, or start-ups, in the form of “Lean Startup” (my translation = “Agile Startup”) and not applicable to you in your business, think again! 

GE has gone Agile.  As reported here in The Harvard Business Review article:  “GE’s Culture Change After Welch and Immelt”, GE has adopted agile mindsets, principles and practices:

  • “Using tools learned from Silicon Valley, GE launched FastWorks, which relies on lean start-up principles. This new way of working results in better outcomes for our customers, faster. FastWorks is about constantly experimenting, learning, and iterating, and the customer being at the center of everything we do”.  How GE Applies Lean Startup Practices.
  • “To facilitate this new operating model, we have had to create a new cultural template that demands new ways of behaving. We even called our new cultural orientation “the GE Beliefs” to ensure that people changed their frame of thinking to the new way. The GE Beliefs are:
    • Customers determine our success,
    • Stay lean to go fast,
    • Learn and adapt to win
    • Empower and inspire each other
    • Deliver results in an uncertain world.
  • “They reflect a renewed emphasis on acceleration, agility, and customer focus.”
  • “In a fast-moving world, we have also realized that annual events are passé. Every operating rhythm has to become more agile, responsive, nimble, and focused. GE Insert 1Consequently, we have moved away from an annualized strategic-planning process to a more continuous process of checking on the environment and context and pivoting where necessary every quarter. Reviewing the people and organizational-capability equations is also more continuous. And we are changing the way we do performance appraisals from an annual event to a more real-time approach. All these “interventions” reinforce the new culture — one of speed, simplicity and customer focus.”

That is a massive case-study of a massive pivot to Agile.  Indeed, GE calls itself.  “The Biggest Implementation of Lean Startup on Earth” and in shorter form “The Biggest Startup”:

  • “Lean manufacturing, the idea that companies create more value with fewer resources, has been driving productivity for decades. GE Insert 2But what if you are efficient at making something that nobody wants? “That’s what happened to most of the startups I’ve built,” says Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of bestseller The Lean Startup. “Most of them failed.”
  • “What creates value for a startup is learning if we are on path to a sustainable business,” Ries says. He says that successful companies have to “make that shift in perspective, from making stuff to learning which stuff to make.”
  • GE executive development leader Janice Semper says that through FastWorks, GE was “creating a culture where we operate faster while delivering better outcomes. At the heart of it is the discipline of testing and learning that permeates the entire the organization,” she says.

HCIIndeed, I just heard Janice Semper speak at the Human Capital Institute Summit in New Orleans, entitled “Agile Talent Strategies for Managing Change and Shifting Priorities” where my colleagues and I at Agility Consulting & Training were sponsors.  There she said:

  • “When we first tried to implement Lean Start-up we experienced organ reject so we realized that we had to sunset our GE Values and pivot to a new cultural template of GE Beliefs in alignment with an agile/startup mindset”
  • “Calling it something different (moving from “Values” to “Beliefs”) was very important because Language = Mindset = Behaviors”
  • “For a green-belt/black-belt schooled in seeking perfection it was very hard to pivot, don’t expect perfection, get comfortable being uncomfortable”

In other words GE is pivoting its whole juggernaut of a business from Lean to Agile.  This isn’t just a new spin they are putting on things.  It’s a true pivot.  I spoke with Janice Semper afterwards and got an even greater sense of that.

Slide3So Agile is going mainstream – when the big dogs weigh in, you know something big is happening!  It doesn’t surprise me.  For 15 years my colleagues and I at Agility Consulting & Training have been predicting Agile would become as ubiquitous as Lean by saying “AGILE is the new LEAN”.   There is no better benchmark of that than GE.  They invested massively in Six-Sigma and Lean.  Now they are investing massively in Agile.

Keep on keeping in mind that GE makes everything from aircraft engines to washing machines! 

Still think Agile isn’t for you?  Think again!  Agile is for everyone.  Indeed, other corporations at the Human Capital Institute Summit in New Orleans making presentations about pivoting to agile were:

  • Walmart
  • Cisco
  • Williams Sonoma
  • UPS
  • Aflac
  • Turner Broadcasting (a client of ours)
  • Quest Diagnostics
  • Amongst others (read more)

FFF - resizedAgile is for everyone, but the pivot isn’t easy.  Read more:  Waterfall vs Agile: Pivoting to the Future of Agile-Teamwork.  For 15 years my colleagues and I have been helping mid-market corporations, companies and enterprises of all descriptions go on that transformation journey.  See a partial client list, case-studies and testimonials.     The pivot requires a rubric of leadership-agility, team-agility and organizational-agility with associated training, facilitation, mentoring, coaching and assessments.  All architected with an agile approach into a transformation journey which is prone to success not failure.  Indeed, at the Human Capital Summit in New Orleans we stood apart as the only sponsor/exhibitor with that focus and architecture.

We are launching a “Focused, Fast & Flexible Revolution” to help the mid-market get there faster as time is of the essence.  Watch this space.

When the big dogs weigh in, you know something big is happening!  When will you weigh in?

About Mike Richardson

Agility-Facilitator/Mentor/Coach; Agility-Author/Speaker; Agility-Board-Member/Chairman. All-round Agility Activist in everything I do, every day, everywhere, in every way. Provocative, Profound, Practical. At Eye-Level. With Love/Hate!

One comment

  1. Mike – very well said!. We are at the edge of a major Tipping Point, in Gladwell terms, and we will no doubt see a major acceleration in exploration, education and adoption of AGILE core belief system, operating principles and capabilities. The question is who will be left behind.

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