Frequently Asked Questions

Business agility is a complex and multi-faceted domain with no simple or easy answers. It is somewhat ironic then, that we present a simple set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) on the topic. Please consider these answers a starting point for your journey. Wherever possible, we’ve provided links to go deeper into each topic.

Business Agility in a Nutshell

What is business agility?

Business agility is a set of organizational capabilities, behaviors, and ways of working that affords your business the freedom, flexibility, and resilience to achieve its purpose. No matter what the future brings.

With this freedom, companies can instinctively seize emerging and unforeseen opportunities for their customers’ benefit. They can confidently navigate change, rapidly learn, adjust course, and deliver value at speed. They can thrive - no matter what the future brings.

Business agility brings focus to how work is conducted across the entire organization. It’s not just processes and procedures. It is principles and ways of thinking that lead to new organizational behaviors and norms including:

  • an actively engaged and aligned workforce
  • empowering management
  • catalytic leadership
  • unified business processes, policies, and functions
  • a culture of respect, trust, learning and autonomy
  • an overriding obsession on creating timely customer experiences that fulfill real needs

Business agility does not constrain a company by adding yet another layer of policies and procedures to existing ways of working. Instead, business agility challenges the “status quo” of how business is conducted - asking how the humanity of the enterprise can be liberated to achieve the highest purpose of the company.

Why do we use that definition?

Defining business agility is not an easy task. Some definitions are filled with jargon that obscures the intent behind the details. Other definitions are so abstract that the reader may find the concept inspiring, but not actionable. This definition is phrased to avoid both.

What are the benefits of business agility?

We know from our research that business agility, while complex and difficult, brings measurable benefits. Market success is the top reported benefit. Depending on the company, greater market success may mean more revenue, greater profitability, larger market share or accelerated speed to market. Quotes from our studies include:

  • "Our revenue is increasing"
  • "Our early delivery to market was effective to be a market leader"
  • "Revenue and customer KPIs (key performance indicators) have been improving"

Customer satisfaction is the next highest reported benefit. With its focus on value delivery and organizational responsiveness to customer feedback - business agility enables companies to move beyond customer satisfaction to customer delight. And we know, from other studies, customer delight means loyal customers, repeat business, and referrals.

Another important group of people who benefit from a company’s move towards business agility are the employees of that company. The next highest reported benefit is employee satisfaction and how it leads to increased employee engagement, collaboration, and retention. Business agility is an opportunity to foster a company culture and ways of working that enables employees to do the best of their lives. Anything less is a waste of human potential.

It's not an easy journey - but it's a worthwhile one.

What does Business Agility encompass?

Achieving business agility is not simple. There is no silver bullet or single framework, method, or system that delivers business agility to all companies in the same way. Organizations are complex adaptive systems that look more like a living organism than a machine. As a result, while no two organizations follow the same journey towards business agility, common patterns emerge.

In 2017, the Business Agility Institute began work to clarify what it means to be an agile organization, regardless of industry, size, or context. Out of this research, the Domains of Business Agility emerged - a model of business agility consisting of 5 primary domains spanning 18 emergent business capabilities:

While some companies may attempt to shortcut the journey to business agility by focusing only on process or enterprise agility - it is not enough. Each of the domains and capabilities is a fundamental characteristic of an agile organization and is equally important, necessary, and interrelated.

On the journey towards business agility, companies learn that there is no singular starting point nor one prescribed sequence of steps towards agility. Each organization with its current business characteristics and future objectives is unique. Innumerable frameworks, practices, systems, and behavioral approaches exist outside the model to support an organization’s capability development in each of these domains and capabilities.

What drives an organization to start a business agility journey?

While every organization will have different goals as they begin their business agility journey, the overarching intention is to be better. And in today's society, we need better organizations.

This means being better for

  • Customers through an overarching focus on fulfilling true customer needs and creating positive, remarkable experiences
  • Employees through a foundation of respect, trust, learning, and autonomy enabling them to do the best work of their lives
  • Shareholders and stakeholders by creating a sustainable organization thriving in the midst of unpredictable markets and conditions
  • Society where they operate by acting in good faith and contributing to a greater good

The Context of Business Agility

How do agile frameworks and practices relate to business agility?

The worlds of agile and business agility significantly overlap, but the two are not synonymous. The agile values and principles as documented in the agile manifesto are just as relevant for the entire organization as they are for software teams. Likewise, agile practices and frameworks, like Scrum or Kanban, can apply to many different areas of the organization (e.g., marketing).

There are also many elements that do not cross over; for example, agile practices that exist solely for technical teams (e.g., Test Driven Development) and business agility concepts that do not exist in any agile framework (e.g., adaptive funding models).

Is agile outside IT the same as business agility?

Business agility is much more than Agile outside of IT. When first exploring business agility, many organizations start by taking the values, principles, practices, and frameworks from agile and applying them to other functions in the broader business. However, this isn't business agility.

While the heritage is clear, business agility is a systemic adoption of agility that spans all aspects and interactions of an organization.

How does business agility relate to other new business models such as responsive organizations, teal organizations, or servant leadership?

Since the late 20th century, there has been growing interest in new ways of working that are more humanistic, resilient, and adaptive in the face of continually emerging change and opportunity. Given the broad nature of business agility, it naturally encompasses many of these new ways of working, thinking, and being. For example, a teal organization naturally expresses many characteristics of business agility. Although an agile organization is not automatically a teal organization.

It is best to look at business agility as a series of characteristics and values. Any framework, system, or model that encompasses those characteristics can be considered to have business agility.

Is there a business agility framework?

As should be evident by this point, there’s no single framework for business agility, nor can there ever be one.
A company is a complex adaptive system - more like a living organism than a machine. A company comes to life through the interplay of its people, processes, partners, systems, culture, and customers. In other words - all organizations are unique ecosystems that are constantly evolving.

In contrast, a framework can be thought of as a repeatable, replicable set of processes, roles and deliverables that can be defined, documented, copied, and installed at a company. So, while many frameworks can help a company achieve some aspects of business agility, there is no business agility framework.

The Business Agility Journey

Why do business agilists refer to their investment in business agility as a journey rather than a transformation?

The metaphor of a “transformation” implies a change of state. The challenge with this metaphor is that there is an implicit end state; from a caterpillar to a butterfly. In the case of organizational change, as long as the market continues to change, companies must change alongside it.

Using the metaphor of a journey helps leaders understand that this isn’t a simple state change. In other words - business agility is not a project with defined milestones and a party at the end. Instead, business agility is a new approach to operating all aspects of a company. The move to business agility can be long, complicated, and often circuitous for the entire organization without a clear end in sight. The good news, though, is that you don’t have to wait to enjoy its benefits. Business agility is a spectrum ranging from having less to having more agility, and each step of the journey brings with it greater benefits to the organization and its people.

How can my company get started in business agility?

Achieving business agility is not simple. There is no silver bullet or single framework, method, or system that delivers business agility to all companies in the same way. Organizations are complex adaptive systems that look more like a living organism than a machine. As a result, no two organizations begin or follow the same journey towards business agility.

That said, some high-level considerations that may help you get started:

  • Begin with the Domains of Business Agility. Note that most of the domains are people related. From your customers to your employees to your leaders - a company’s success in business agility comes down to people. Look for ways to actively involve your people from the very beginning.
  • While there is no “one true way” to business agility, success does leave clues in its wake. Leverage the research papers, case studies, and guidance reports in the Business Agility Library to fuel your team’s imagination of what is possible on your business agility journey.
  • Take a hard look at how value (your products and services) flows from concept to delivery into the hands of your customers. Where are the pain or pinch points? What are the obstacles inhibiting faster flow of greater value? Focus on making improvements here.
  • Take a page from the scientific method by running lightweight experiments to address pain points and obstacles. Involve your employees in selecting, designing, and running the experiments. Calling such an activity an “experiment” builds a bold culture of curiosity, engagement, and learning. Build on the successes and learn from the failures.
  • Make the hard decisions on what to stop doing, as well as what to start or change. One of the greatest acts of modern leadership is saying “no” to a “good” idea so that the organization can act quickly on the “great” idea.
  • Engage leaders and managers in active stewardship of your organization’s journey towards business agility. While there will certainly be opportunities to engage outside support for consulting, training, or mentorship - business agility is not a project to outsource, delegate and forget. It requires ongoing active leadership.
  • Finally - celebrate your organization’s accomplishments every step of the way.
How long does an agile journey take? When will it be done?

It might sound trite, but there is no end to a business agility journey. Business agility is a continuum, where the question is not whether you have it, but rather how much you have - and is it enough?

The need to experiment, innovate, and adapt to changing market and customer expectations will always be necessary. However, that doesn’t mean that an organization needs to invest in external consultants and coaches forever. The goal of any organization is to reach the point where the agile journey becomes self-propagating and integral to the organization's culture and operation.

How do I know when my organization is truly agile?

Each of the Domains of Business Agility details a series of maturity characteristics. Organizations that rate highly across most, or all, of the domains are considered mature agile organizations.

Access the business agility survey to take a short self-assessment:

Challenges to Business Agility

What can inhibit business agility in organizations?

If a move to business agility is an ongoing journey - what does a failure in business agility mean? Simply put, the only way to fail at business agility is to give up and quit. Any other failure is only a temporary setback and an opportunity to learn, adjust course, and continue.

That said, looking at business agility failures, we can confidently state that there are clear ways NOT to lead this journey. Some of the most common inhibitors to business agility success are:

  • Top-down imposition of a new values and practices on an unwilling or unprepared workforce
  • Oversimplification of the journey to a series of processes to be “rolled out” and “scaled up” as quickly as possible, leaving little time for learning or adaptation in the organization
  • Lack of complete transparency by leadership including intentions for the teams, final objectives, processes planned to achieve those objectives and associated business metrics and figures
  • Failing to assess the current state of working relationships at all levels in the organization. Insufficient trust, psychological safety, and pathways for candid communication
  • Failing to recognize the everyone’s work will change - including executives and management - as part of this journey and avoiding the tough conversations and potential conflict regarding the needed changes
What is the biggest challenge to success in business agility?

As a research organization, we spend a lot of time trying to understand this question. In our Annual Business Agility Report, companies share both their successes and their biggest challenges in business agility. While there are many elements, the most common themes for challenges include

  • Leadership styles (including buy-in and sponsorship). "Our senior leadership lacks the understanding that it takes more than just tech teams 'doing' agile". We know that leaders set the tone for the entire organization. If the leaders have not embraced agility, the business agility journey will be problematic from the beginning.
  • Change leadership. This doesn’t (just) mean leading formal change initiatives. It’s also ongoing micro-change work that includes two-way conversations around the changes, as well as support to help individuals become the best possible version of themselves at work. In other words, documenting a process, creating a few videos, and sending out a couple of emails won’t be enough.
  • Culture and mindset. "We have a risk averse culture which naturally forms silos and layers of bureaucracy". Most companies would say something similar. Superficial changes limited to policies and procedures provide only a temporary veneer of agility that will fade all too quickly. For a company to see long lasting, sustainable benefits through business agility, in depth work to shift the organization’s culture and mindset is needed.

It may be a hard journey, and it's a worthwhile one for your customers, for your business and for your employees.

The Business Agility Institute

What is the Business Agility Institute?

The Business Agility Institute is a professional association that drives large-scale change by researching, informing, connecting, and celebrating individuals and organizations on the quest to thrive in the midst of change. At the Business Agility Institute, we believe in the power of transformation to grow a company into something better. We're here to cheer you on as you become more agile, innovative, and dynamic. We're here to advocate for you and share our knowledge and community. We're here to inspire you to usher in the future of business.

Read more about the origins and who’s behind the Business Agility Institute:

Who is our target audience?

While our content is available to anyone, we make content decisions while keeping three key personas in mind;

  • TOP-100 BUSINESS LEADERS: Senior executives, outside the agile circle, who are focused on business operations and governance. Leaders who understand (or need to understand) why business agility matters to their organisation and how it can contribute to its resilience and sustainability over the long-run.
  • NON-IT PROFESSIONALS: Professionals in HR, Sales, Marketing, Finance, and similar divisions, who need to understand the important and impact of business agility in their role. As well as those who are already part of a business agility journey and need function-specific support and guidance.
  • AGILE PROFESSIONALS: Both experienced coaches who are responsible for organisational change and transformation as well as novice coaches who are just getting started in their business agility career. Those who need to be equipped with the relevant tools and taxonomy to be successful in their role. For more experienced coaches, this is also a platform to share their expertise with a global audience and grow their reputation.
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