Instilling Organizational Agility for a New Normal

Tom Raper

Organizational Agility is defined as an ability for an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment[i]. With so many changes occurring in today’s climate, this long sought-after ideal has moved to the forefront of the minds of many leaders. And we see examples of organizational agility in action all around us; automakers reinventing operations to produce life-saving medical equipment, distilleries shifting production to hand sanitizers, and even schools updating curriculum almost overnight to be conducive to online learning. This type of agility, while extremely important in today’s climate, happens all the time and is a key factor in long term success and longevity of any company. But not all of them are able to achieve this level of flexibility.

The Misconception – Agility or Stability?

Flexibility is inherent in agile organizations. It means teams and whole companies can embrace and adopt change without losing momentum. Disruption happens all around us and companies are required to adapt or die just to keep up. But don’t confuse flexibility with stability – they are independent of one another. You can be flexible and instable; you can be inflexible and quite stable. The point is there needs to be both to reach a state of organizational agility. Stability isn’t sacrificed in the name of agility, rather you can become more agile by being more stable. They actually rely on each other for growth and success.

So Which Are You? 

Many smaller organizations are easily able to be flexible and agile. With a small number of people and a high level of creative energy, agility comes more naturally. There aren’t hurdles in place to make changes hard to implement and there tends to be a “fail fast” mindset that allows for all ideas to be explored and tested.

Conversely, stability can be found in highly bureaucratic environments where there is excessive process and governance that is designed as a guardrail but makes it hard to implement changes. Many of the more stable, less flexible organizations have standardized policies that aren’t designed to test ideas or explore new ways of working.

The good news is you can have both. The bad news is, you can also have neither, but let’s hope that’s not the case. There is always a benefit from some degree of flexibility and some degree of stability, and when there is a high degree of both it becomes a highly collaborative, highly resilient organization that not just withstands a global pandemic, but actually thrives from it.

Here is a quick assessment from McKinsey & Company that will give you a good idea of where you fall in the quadrant of Flexible vs. Stable:

Worksheet: Where Does Your Organization Fall Today?

Place a check mark by every word that describes how it feels to work at your organization today. Total the number of each quadrant to see where your organization falls. [i]

Up and to the Right

While this assessment is not a comprehensive guide to the current state of your company, it might provide a reality check of where you are and hopefully a little motivation for how to become closer to an Agile state. There are a lot of ways to increase the amount of stability and the degree of flexibility within your organization to improve your team’s ability to react and respond to changes. For the Project Management Office, there are many ways to reduce excessive processes and encourage more dynamic planning. There are also ways the PMO can drive change throughout the organization and be the go-to team to help navigate uncertainty for the business. In a recent webinar, The Proactive PMO, I covered three specific areas the PMO can focus on to adopt an organizational agility strategy and become the driver of change.

  1. Portfolio Management: If the PMO is not already focused on portfolio-level management, this is the best way to make an impact on the business. This can mean selecting and funding the right projects, measuring and reporting return on those investments, and ensuring alignment of projects to the strategic goals of the business – even when those change.
  2. Resource Management: This is typically the hardest part of portfolio management but also the most important one to get right – ensuring the right people are assigned to the right projects, at any given time. Once you decide which investments are the best for the business and decide to move forward, it is imperative there is adequate staffing to get it done. Agile resourcing is also critical for Organizational Agility – the ability to make changes to the resource plan and stop projects mid-flight if they no longer serve the needs of the business.
  3. Visibility & Communication: These are two areas that will significantly improve the Organizational Agility factor within any business. Improved visibility allows executives to make the right decisions and information to help make the right ones. With actionable insights and effective communication, swift re-planning and adjustments make change part of the culture and allow for teams to continue working without disruption.

For more information on how the PMO can help drive change toward Organizational Agility and how better project and portfolio management can support them, watch our webinar on-demand.