When can an organization or a company be termed “agile”?
You can’t just flip a switch and a hierarchical company suddenly becomes an agile one. On the contrary, the transformation to an agile organization is a process with individual starting and finishing points for each company. Yet in current practice, the journey often begins with the implementation of agile projects. Companies that cultivate an agile project management develop this spirit further throughout the entire organization.
Is a 100 percent agile bank conceivable?
Once again, there is no black and white: agile projects are common in many companies. Some banks, insurers and other financial services providers have already established agile structures in their line operations. Others have agile organizational units but do not work in sprints, i.e. repetitive periods of three or four weeks devoted to working on specific tasks. And there are banks that have already divided their organizational units into different agility classes – an interesting approach.
For all their differences, do they have things in common?
The greatest overlap is in the mindset. In agile organizations, employees give much more thought to what they can do to improve their company, and they take action accordingly. To this end, agile organizations create new processes and structures. There is a lot of potential that is currently still untapped. Many good ideas, commitment and motivation lie dormant in the organizations. Yet it would be so easy to promote innovation. The more room for maneuver employees have, the more potential can unfold, and this would also increase motivation and performance.
What is the reason for not leveraging this potential at the moment?
A major obstacle is when management doesn’t provide support, i.e. when the decision makers actually prefer traditional project management, but label it agile because that is in fashion right now. The second show stopper is having too little time: employees often work on agile projects on top of their line responsibilities. Once the project has started, the employee realizes that the often intensive work in an agile project cannot simply be done part-time. This creates frustration and contributes little to good results. Thirdly, there is frequently a lack of competence in dealing with agile methods. Much has been accomplished in this respect, but there is still room for improvement. All in all, I would be happy if people were sometimes more courageous.
Do you see any differences in the obstacles, e.g. in terms of customer size?
To give an honest answer: interestingly, there are hardly any differences. Whether small or large, regional or investment bank, insurance company or specialist provider – drivers, success factors and obstacles are all very similar. The only difference worth mentioning in this context is the budget for which the agile teams are responsible. There are also hardly any differences in mindset; hierarchy or seniority level in the company play less of a role. The degree to which requirements have to be specific changes depending on the hierarchy level; board members, for example, often wish they could simply do something differently. The more implementation-oriented units in the organization are then faced with the practical issues: What resources are available, what tools are used ...?
Will all organizations be more or less agile in the future?
Agility is not a trend, it is the future. Why? Working in a customer-centric way is increasingly gaining importance. Projects are increasingly growing in complexity. In this competitive environment, it is essential to be more agile. Otherwise, companies are not flexible enough, also in terms of resources and budget. Companies with agile structures are already more successful today, and the change has often only just begun. We may no longer call this agility in ten years, because it will then simply be normal.
What is the role of managers in this context?
Already today, the transformation to an agile organization depends on the managers, their mindset, vision, courage and flexibility. An employee immediately notices whether a manager is serious about doing things differently in the future. And one thing is even more important than before – surely a consequence of the increasing uncertainty and lack of predictability in many organizations – namely that managers are measured by actions, not words. Otherwise, the trust that has been built up is quickly squandered. No matter how agile we think. As a leader, you must deliver – today more than ever.
Read more on the “agile project management” topic in another interview with Sarah Schroeder.