Steps Organizations Can Make to PIVOT to Business Agility

By applying the PIVOT principles, organizations can avoid the agile spiral and manage the human side of change to get unstuck and accelerate transformation.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

October 12, 2020

5 Min Read

The concept of agility was codified soon after the industry emerged from Y2K and at about the same time Apple released its first iPod. But agile remains a hot topic. In the 2020 CGI Client Global Insights, business and IT executives cite "optimizing operations" and "agile supply chain" in their top five business priorities, yet 71% of executives cite legacy technology or agile constraints as a barrier to transformation.

What is driving the renewed sense of urgency around agility? Why are most organizations still stuck in their efforts to become agile? And what can we learn from the leaders who have successfully made the pivot to business agility?

Customers and constituents have high expectations for a superior experience. It’s no longer enough to meet customer needs, a modern organization must anticipate and preempt expectations, developing and delivering value-added services when, where and how customers want them.Faced with competition and fleeting customer loyalty, agility is not merely good business -- it’s a survival tactic.

If agility is so critical, why are so many organizations failing to achieve it? Because it’s not easy. Agility isn’t a proclamation passed down by an executive or a tactic to execute overnight. It’s a holistic approach to business and technology that requires understanding and cooperation across an organization.

So what goes wrong? Many agile initiatives start out with enthusiasm in establishing pilots, training teams and celebrating initial results. Early teams are staffed with known disruptors or enthusiastic groups who are open to changing how they work.

As early teams return to their day jobs and agile is pushed across an organization to those less receptive to change, initiatives lose steam without proper mentoring and enablement in new ways of working. Disillusion and resistance sets in. Support fizzles.

A course correction typically follows as leadership falls back on established management paradigms and tries to instill consistency and rigid best practices. Old habits take over, the business disengages, and agile is dismissed as just another IT initiative.

In order to avoid negative spirals, agile leaders must keep one foot on the ground while moving forward, and being able to change direction quickly. We have consolidated some of the best practices of successful agile organizations into what we call PIVOT (People, Investment, Value, Outcomes and Tools) principles.

Agile leaders focus on people and organizational enablement, establishing the right environment for adoption. They bridge the gap between business and IT, and unite both groups to ensure the finished product will meet customer expectations. They also engage middle management to champion agile development throughout the organization.

Investing in people is important, but agile leaders must also shift their financial models to fund capacity versus projects. This change requires busting the cost-accounting model that values cost reduction through efficiencies until there is a finished product, while agile delivers value incrementally. Leaders must grant permission and funding for exploration and innovation to build capabilities and new skills.

Agile leaders are in tune with customers and can quickly pivot to deliver services and products that bring value, reducing lead times from ideation to market penetration.

For example, if a car manufacturer plans to roll out an updated onboard digital interface, but better technology becomes available, do they have the agility to pivot; or, are they stuck releasing features customers don’t want?

Value-creation requires high fidelity, not just delivering requirements, to get the project done and moving to the next deliverable. To avoid the spiral, organizations must resist the temptation to go their own way, and instead maintain discipline, adhering to agile principles to create measurable value.

To measure success, agile leaders must establish clear expectations of outcomes. Waterfall approaches, where stakeholder and customer requirements are gathered at the beginning of the project, and then a sequential project plan is created to accommodate those requirements, reward how motion and activity contribute to planned milestones. Agile methods reward completion, measuring impact by objectives and key results vs. key performance indicators.

Moving to agile is not the time to be light on metrics. Integration with DevOps, a set of practices that combines software development and IT operations in order to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality, can help establish measurement standards that are critical for creating an environment for agile to flourish.

Agile leaders are taxonomy-driven organizations that promote principle-driven versus process-driven execution. Agile organizations must define their goals, and how each team will contribute to them. This requires a common taxonomy. At the same time, tools are important enablers for distributed knowledge workers, but should not constrain development by dictating process. Tools should automate “administrative” work liberating people to focus on value.

By applying the PIVOT principles, organizations can avoid the agile spiral and manage the human side of change to get unstuck and accelerate agile transformation.

To learn more about what steps organizations can take to PIVOT to being an agile organization, download “Getting unstuck: Making the PIVOT to business agility”.

Steven Lacroix, CGI Vice President, is an IT professional with 20+ years leading and managing all aspects, groups and silos in the software delivery life cycle, and has seen the impact of digital transformation up close where success factors have less to do with technologies used and more to do with an organization’s ability to embrace a digital mindset. He’s focused on helping clients advance their digital transformation journey in lean agile, DevOps and quality engineering transformations. Steve has experience managing agile and DevOps transformation engagements for Fortune 500 companies.

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