I know we used to say, “cash is king”. Not any more … cash is not king … agility is! Agility is king and cash is just a way of keeping score!
Charles Darwin got it right more than 150 years ago:
“It’s not the strongest who survive. Not the most intelligent. It’s the most adaptable to change” (Charles Darwin)
In other words, “agile”. It’s the most agile who survive and thrive.
AGILE is the new LEAN!
How huge has LEAN been in business? Try humongous! AGILE is going the same way … it’s going to be huge. Why? For several reasons:
- Because LEAN can easily default into being continuous improvement only. It’s about streamlining for efficiency and effectiveness, waste reduction, removing non-valued-added. Continuous improvement on steroids! But we live in an increasingly volatile world of disruptive change in which continuous improvement is not enough. That would be like re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic! Very soon there is going to be an ice-berg … and very soon thereafter a hole below the water-line … and very soon thereafter we will need a new ship! That’s discontinuous improvement. Or Clayton Christensen calls it “sustaining innovation” (i.e. continuous improvement) and “disruptive innovation” (i.e. discontinuous improvement). AGILE is necessarily inclusive of both as an “and-proposition”.
- Because of one of my favorite sayings, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”! AGILE is already here and is already huge … in the field of Agile Software Development … which has already been up-framed into Agile Project Management, of any kind of project not just software projects. The future of AGILE is already here, it’s just no evenly distributed. It will be soon, coming to a business near you! As AGILE Business, AGILE Leadership, Organizational Agility and everything which adds up to Enterprise Agility.
- Because all of the seeds of AGILE exist within LEAN. The ideas of focusing on customer value, an iterative process (PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Act) and learning from mistakes are all at the heart of LEAN and all of its prior incarnations … Six Sigma, SPC (Statistical Process Control), TQM (Total Quality Management) and others. So we are reaching inside of LEAN to these seeds of AGILE and turning things inside out. We are looking into the same body of wisdom but through an AGILE lens not a LEAN lens.
AGILE is the new LEAN! GE Invests Massively in Pivoting from LEAN to AGILE. When the big dogs weigh in you know something big is happening! Nobody invested more massively in Six-Sigma and Lean than GE, and now they are investing massively in pivoting from Lean to Agile. AGILE is the new LEAN!
Why? Because Agility is the antidote to VUCA.
We live in an increasingly VUCA world. The speed of business and the pace of change are accelerating all the time, laced with the turbulence of increasing Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity … it’s a VUCA world!
Dee Hock said it well in 1999:
“Fasten your seat belts. The turbulence has scarcely begun. With accelerating speed, we’ve transcended boundary after boundary of diversity and complexity. The past is ever less predictive; the future is less predictable and the present scarcely exists at all” (Dee Hock, 1999, “The Birth of the Cha-ordic Age”)
The success equation becomes:
VUCA – Agility = Fragility
If VUCA is increasing but agility isn’t (frankly because, in my experience, most people don’t even understand what agility is and what it isn’t – it’s open to a lot of misinterpretation) then a gap emerges, resulting in underlying fragility. You might have got away with it so far, but if the world raises the bar on you just a little bit more, things can start to breakdown, bigger and faster than your worst nightmare, with few second chances! Just ask Blackberry; Sony; Walmart and many others who have been asleep at the wheel.
A breakthrough is required.
Trouble is that breakthroughs don’t come easy. They don’t come fast. They don’t come from incremental thinking.
“The reason that sophisticated tools of forecasting and business analysis, as well as elegant strategic plans, usually fail to produce dramatic breakthroughs in managing a business—they are all designed to handle the sort of complexity in which there are many variables: detail complexity. But there are two types of complexity. The second type is dynamic complexity, situations where cause and effect are subtle and where the effects over time of interventions are not obvious. Conventional forecasting, planning and analysis methods are not equipped to deal with dynamic complexity. The real leverage in most management situations lies in understanding dynamic complexity not detail complexity.” (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge, 1990)
Mastering dynamic complexity requires a shift to an agile mindset. To create dramatic breakthroughs we have to understand the who, what, how, where, when, why of agility.