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“There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.”

— Hamilton

When the chaos of business strikes, executives scramble to make big and bold strategic edicts like fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Big. Loud. Flashy.

And the stakeholders love it. But what gets remembered by the teams delivering the strategy isn’t the pretty sparkly colors… it’s the deafening boom, the choking smoke, and the dust of ashes falling from the sky.

This is the beginning of Business Agility theater. Let me explain.

Your organization can take many paths to address a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. In fact, executives are motivated to make big audacious changes in response to the environment. Today, “be agile” is the leading declaration that executives make.

Here is how teams will respond.

Your organization could make the changes necessary to sense and respond to change in a way that delights your customers and drives value for your organization.

Or your organization could make superficial changes that look like you’re responding to change, but you’re really calling old processes by new names.

The first path is a good indicator of business agility. The second path is a sign that you’re attending business agility theater.

What is Business Agility Theater?

Business agility theater is when an organization adopts practices and techniques commonly associated with business agility without making the fundamental changes required to thrive in a VUCA environment.

It’s a similar concept to Agile theater, which is where teams have ceremonies labeled “stand up,” “sprint planning,” and “retrospective” but cannot operate in a manner consistent with Agile values and principles.

While you may enjoy a night out at a show, business agility theater is rarely something you want to watch in your organization. At the least, it distracts you from what you’re trying to accomplish. The truth is that is not a sign of real behavioral change. It’s an act.

At worst, it brings grave harm to your organization’s ability to respond to change and can permanently harm its operations. Failures because of business agility theater also ruin motivation for further attempts to change using Agile approaches because the word “agility” picks up much unwanted baggage.

The Tell-Tale Signs of Business Agility Theater

An excellent defense against business agility theater is being able to spot it.

Here are some key signs that you may have raised the curtain on business agility theater and what you can do to get your show back on track.

Dysfunctional instead of Cross-Functional Teams

Pulling a group of people from different departments together, and giving them a slack channel, a Miro board, and a Jira Project does not make them a team.

Neither does making sure each team has a scrum master, product owner, and a group of people from some odd collection of departments.

The team won’t succeed simply because it has seven plus or minus two people from different departments. A true high-performing team has the right mix of skill sets to deliver the desired outcome. Those people have the skills to solve the problem they set out to solve and need to count on each other.

They need to be a high-performing team.

Business Agility Becomes the Goal

This may come as a surprise, but your organization does not undergo a business agility transformation to adopt business agility.

When you ask your organization’s leaders why they’re going through the work to adopt business agility, do you get answers like these?

  • "So we can be more agile.”
  • “Because our competitors are doing it.”
  • “To adopt SAFe.” (1)

If you do, sneak out at the intermission.

Business agility is a means to an end. You adopt business agility to position your organization to survive and thrive in a world where you don’t know what will happen from one day to the next.

The moment you hear your organization is considering a transformation, spark a conversation about what problem that transformation should solve.

Make sure the reason for making the change is to position your organization to delight its customers in a way that adds value to your business.

Implement a Framework with no Modification

Using a framework to help your organization start adopting business agility is not a bad thing… in fact, we recommend it.

Frameworks become detrimental when implemented strictly by the book without the steps to inspect and adapt. That book is usually based on a specific business with specific characteristics. What worked in one situation rarely works the same way in a different one.

So definitely use frameworks as a starting point but understand why that collection of practices worked in that situation, identify where your problem is different, and make adjustments that optimize your organization’s best leverage points.

Adopt Practices, but Don’t Change Behavior

It doesn’t matter if your teams do standups, iteration planning, and retrospectives if their behaviors don’t support collaboration, iteration, and learning.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter how much leaders in your organization say they support business agility if they don’t follow up on those proclamations with changes in their behavior:

  • Do leaders hand down solutions to deliver, or do they engage teams to solve a specific problem?
  • Do leaders ignore obstacles that prevent teams from being effective, or do leaders take ownership in resolving them?
  • Do leaders constantly interrupt teams for status updates, or do leaders provide their teams’ air cover?

We could say that the more an organization brags about being agile, the less they are actually practicing business agility.

Business Agility Theater is Not Inevitable

Unfortunately, the signs of business agility theater are quite pervasive. Changing the way you work is very hard. Most of the symptoms mentioned above come about when people grow weary of the effort and look to take the easy way out.

One way to avoid business agility theater and experience business agility in real life is to get help from people who will guide the way and keep you honest. That’s one thing that we pride ourselves on. And to quote the Hamilton musical, “If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for.”

The team at Hyperdrive Agile will be your guide on your business agility journey. We don’t carry silver bullets. Instead, we’ll help you figure out the fit-for-purpose approach to business agility that’s right for your organization-

Work with Hyperdrive Agile and leave the theatrics to Broadway.

(1) We love SAFe like we love a perfectly fitted 3-piece suit. It’s a wonderful thing, but not for every occasion. A fit-for-purpose approach is often more sustainable.

Questions? We Can Help.

When you’re ready to move beyond piecemeal resources and take your Agile skills or transformation efforts to the next level, get personalized support from the world’s leaders in agility.