In today’s rapidly evolving, high-tech marketplace, many organizations are turning to agile ways of working (such as scrum and kaizen) to enable more rapid decision making, accelerate innovation, and improve delivery of strategy. If this is to be done successfully, these new ways of doing things must be intentionally incorporated into the organization’s design. Leaders must therefore first be aware of their own role in the transformation journey to a more agile approach, as well as how to incorporate agile practices into the business’ organization design.
The Leader’s Role in Agile Organization Design
4 Agile Practices Leaders Can Leverage for Improved Organization Design
- Sprints (or design sessions as we call them). Work is divided into incremental chunks targeting very specific objectives, which are worked on intensely and collaboratively by a small group within a short period of time. This helps the organization better prioritize the work, use resources wisely, and respond quickly and efficiently to the demands of the market and customers with minimal risk and overhead.
- Transparency in Communication. The quick, collaborative nature of agile design sessions, which often pull in leaders and employees from across the organization (along with the occasional external stakeholder), requires clear, transparent, and virtually continuous communication. Quick inspection/evaluation meetings before and during design sessions are the norm. Once a session comes to a close, results are shared widely and the teams receive feedback which is then used to initiate real-time and future improvements.
- Cascading Involvement of Stakeholders and/or Customers. Agile organization design proceeds iteratively from broad strategy (macro design) to detailed choices and operational issues (micro design). Typically, different teams are involved in these different phases of work. As the design shifts from macro to micro, the individuals involved tend to come from lower levels of the organizational pyramid, so that the organization remains aligned and relevant top to bottom. Outside involvement is encouraged; engaging the perspectives of trusted customers and other key external stakeholders helps to minimize need for change management and accelerate the process of organization design at all levels.
- Autonomous Teams. One of the principles of the agile manifesto is to focus on “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” In an effective design session, all participants are given an equal voice, regardless of the organization level they belong to. Constructive debate and consensus are encouraged, and the team is given freedom to come up with its own solutions. The alignment leader’s role is to define their team’s strategic objectives as well as decision making guidelines, trusting their team to create strategically aligned solutions that support marketplace differentiation and meet the needs and desires of customers.
While organization design and software development appear to be very different disciplines, at their core they share many of the same principles. It is therefore not surprising that using an agile approach can create similar results in efficiency, effectiveness, and speed, and that many executives, like their software developer counterparts, are turning to agile methods to strengthen and accelerate efforts to transform their businesses.