Domains of Business Agility

An operating model for the next generation of organizations

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The world is changing more rapidly than ever before. Organizations of every size are struggling to remain relevant in the eyes of their customers and society. Customers are more informed and their expectations are higher than they’ve ever been. Employees demand more clarity, empowerment, and meaning in their work. It is only high-performing, adaptable, and agile organizations who will thrive in this unpredictable market. We call this business agility.

At its simplest, business agility is the capacity and willingness of an organization to adapt to, create, and leverage change for their customer’s benefit. This simple statement exposes the dramatic shift in mindset needed for agile organizations. Where how you respond to the market is reliably more predictable than how the market responds to you.

Start thinking of business agility as the common thread. An adaptable and sustainable narrative that binds & guides us into the uncertain future. An operating model that amplifies adaptability and responsiveness in every area of your business. One that acknowledges that an organization is a complex adaptive system and that agility must be everyone’s responsibility. That is to say that “an organization is only as agile as its least agile division!“, and that’s probably not IT anymore.

Introducing the Domains of Business Agility. A simple model consisting of 12 interacting domains across four dimensions centred around the customer. The domains in each dimension are equally important, necessary, and interrelated to each other. You cannot realize business success in an unpredictable market until you develop agility in each of these domains across all areas in your organization.

Enterprise AgilityProcess AgilityStructural AgilityCraft ExcellenceOwnership & AccountabilityGrowth MindsetStrategic AgilityOne TeamPeople ManagementBoardPartnersWorkforceCustomer


The purpose of this model is to show you what to strive for and how to get started. These are essential building blocks for agile organizations. You may also want to consider this model as the “don’t forget” model. As in, if you’re transforming your organization, don’t forget to address all these domains.

We have placed the Customer domain at the center of the model to represent your organization’s purpose. Depending on your organizational values and structure, you could define your customer as; paying clients, the broader community, the environment, society, or some combination of these. Regardless of how you define it, your customer is why you are in business and thus at the heart of the model.

The ring immediately surrounding the customer is the Relationships dimension. Within this, the three domains contextualize your organization, although the specific definitions of each change depending on your organization type (e.g. a private company, a public company, not-for-profit, government organization, etc.). Regardless, your Workforce is responsible for delivering value to customers. Your Board of Directors is the highest expression of shareholder intent and ownership. And your Partners are the vendors, distributors and other strategic partners who enable your business.

Around the outside, we look at the characteristics of business agility. Starting with the three domains under the Leadership Dimension which govern how to shape an agile organization. Starting with People Management which defines the role of managers as leaders who, among many other things, engage, empower, delegate, coach, and inspire. Moving to One Team which is a culture of collaboration underpinned by communication and transparency across individuals, teams, and divisions. And finally, Strategic Agility which shapes how an agile organization sets, communicates and operationalizes an adaptive market vision.

Further around, the three domains under the Individuals Dimension govern how an agile organization delivers value. Starting from a Growth Mindset which promotes experimentation and learning from failure. Craft Excellence which defines the techniques for delivering high-quality work, regardless of function or subject matter, in an agile way. And finally, Ownership & Accountability motivates individuals and teams to take responsibility.

The final dimension is the Operations Dimension. These three domains define how an agile organization works. Structural Agility defines the relationships between individuals, teams & divisions to create an agile organization. Process Agility encompasses an individual value stream – the combination of discrete activities that are undertaken by teams and projects. While Enterprise Agility scales ways of working across divisions, departments, the organization and ultimately between organizations.

While it is not visually shown on the model, your organizational culture is the expression of how the people inside and around your organization interface with your collective operational, leadership, and individual elements. Change any one domain and you will change a characteristic of your organizational culture.

Business agility is best seen as a continuous and systematic evolution of culture, people, and skills rather than a transactional event focusing on one or two domains. Organizations need to treat the customer as an integral part of the system rather than separate and apart from it. Transformations often fail when companies solely focus their investments in transforming processes (Process Agility) or organization structure (Structural Agility) but leave the rest of the business untouched and thus unbalanced. Many organizations are seeing diminishing returns from their current agile adoption for this very reason.

This model is not a method or framework like Scrum, Kanban, or Beyond Budgeting. However, you will see where they fit and how you need a combination to build a high performing organization. Across all domains of business agility, “doing” agile (using the practices and methods) and “being” agile (the expression of an agile mindset) are intertwined. You need both to be successful, while either on their own will lead to failure. Luckily, agile has been around for quite a while so there are hundreds of practices, methods, and frameworks for you to choose from. Throughout this document, we’ll share those practices which are appropriate in any given domain.

So, let’s look at the domains and dimensions in more detail.

Customer Domain

“Customer” is a very broad term. Depending on the organizational context it could mean; a paying client for a private organization, a citizen for a public sector organization, or an abstraction (like “the environment” or “the community”) for an NPO (Non-Profit Organization).

Relationship Domains

The three domains within the Relationships Dimension provide context for your organization. They are highly contextual and the specific definitions change depending on your organization type (e.g. private company, public company, not-for-profit, government organization, etc.). Whatever your organization structure, your Workforce is responsible for delivering value to customers. The Board of Directors is the highest expression of shareholder intent and ownership. And your Partners are the vendors, distributors and other strategic partners who enable your business.

Leadership Domains

The first three domains of business agility are part of the Leadership Dimension and govern how to shape an agile organization. In this context, leadership is a mindset with associated capabilities and techniques. Everyone can be a leader, whether they have institutional authority or not. People Management defines the relationship between individuals and authority. One Team is a culture of collaboration underpinned by communication and transparency across individuals, teams, and divisions. And finally, Strategic Agility shapes how an agile organization sets, communicates and operationalizes an adaptive market vision.

Finally, don’t forget that it is agile leaders (who may not be managers) who orchestrate and guide the organization towards business agility. Leaders who help align the organization to a single purpose, enabling individuals and teams, and taking corrective action where needed.

Individual Domains

The next three domains address the individual and how to deliver work. Starting from a Growth Mindset which promotes experimentation and learning from failure. Craft Excellence which defines the techniques for delivering high-quality work, regardless of function or subject matter, in an agile way. And finally, the need for Ownership & Accountability to empower individuals and teams.

Operation Domains

The final dimension is the Operations Dimension. These three domains operate in concert to define how an agile organization works. Structural Agility defines the relationships between individuals, teams & divisions to create an agile organization. Process Agility encompasses an individual value stream - the combination of discrete activities that are undertaken by teams and projects. While Enterprise Agility scales agility across divisions, departments, the organization and ultimately between organizations.

The Journey

Keep in mind the purpose of this model. It will guide you along your business agility journey without being prescriptive on “how”. This means that your business strategy should align with each of the domains and the practices, frameworks, and values of your organization should address the systemic nature of agility.

While the journey never ends, the first step is to understand “why”. What defines your company and its purpose? In many ways, this will define the way you work together, cooperate and create value for your customers. At every point along this journey, each domain will have a different level of fluency. Focus on those which are currently the most constraining or disruptive to your overall business agility.

And, it’s not an easy journey. The systemic nature of transitioning to business agility can have a profound impact on individuals. Across the entire organization, there must be inspiring leadership, clear communication, and a common purpose to create champions out of everyone. And there will be people in your organization who do not wish to work in this way and will leave. There’s no value judgment in this, simply needing a different way to work. Show respect and understanding to everyone, even those leaving.

However, despite the complexity of the transition, the benefits to business agility are manifest. Starting with the ability to rapidly respond to competitive challenges, disruption, and changes in demand. In fact, an agile organization can do more than just respond, you can be the challenger and disrupter in this uncertain and unpredictable market. Staff satisfaction and retention is higher and, with a general reduction in management overheads, operating costs are lower. Finally, because agile organizations are purpose-driven, you are able to be more responsive to your customers or wider purpose.

These domains and their common characteristics are the keys to business agility. None of these are more important than another. Rather they are complementary and mutually necessary to achieve agility. There is a natural progression over time – as organizations move from less agile to more agile – where the focus will be on specific domains to address specific demands or issues. However, mature agile organizations are ones where all domains are present.

Contributors

This has been a joint effort by numerous Business agility practitioners and experts around the world. I’d like to take the time to thank;

  • AfriKA M. Ndoto
  • Ahmed Sidky
  • Andrew Boyd
  • Andrew Cahoon
  • Anjali Leon
  • Anthony Coppedge
  • Asshok Singh
  • Ben Hogan
  • Boryana Manolova
  • Brad Appleton
  • Bret Nelson
  • Brittany Baker
  • Сергей Рогачев (Sergey Rogachev)
  • Chris Chan
  • Chris Edwards
  • Cliff Hazell
  • Curtis Michelson
  • Dan Chesterman
  • David Horowitz
  • David Luke
  • Dawna Jones
  • Derek Winter
  • Drew Prescott
  • Eric Norman
  • Ewan O’Leary
  • Fabrício Laguna
  • Frederic Ducros
  • Gopal Katragadda
  • Hamish Taylor
  • Harry Nieboer‏
  • Helen Snitkovsky
  • Henrico Dolfing
  • Jas Chong
  • Jason Hall
  • Jeff Kosciejew‏
  • Jeremy Pullen
  • Johan Tuulse
  • Jorge Valdés
  • Jutta Eckstein
  • Kashif Heyat
  • Krishna Kumar
  • Lani Beer
  • Larry Cooper
  • Malcolm Anderson‏
  • Marc-Andre Langlais
  • Marcelo Espejo
  • Melanie Kendell
  • Mia Horrigan
  • Michael Derwin
  • Mitul Ghosh
  • Myles Hopkins
  • Nagesh Sharma
  • Nat Tanner
  • Nevine White
  • Nicholas Ho
  • Nick Argall
  • Nilesh Kulkarni
  • Peta Guy
  • Pete Morris
  • Peter Merel
  • Phillip Gadzinski
  • Pia-Maria Thorén
  • Renee Troughton
  • Rifki Rifki
  • Sandeep P R
  • Sandy Mamoli
  • Scott Ambler
  • Sebastian Voss
  • Shane Hastie
  • ShriKant Vashishtha
  • Sofia Woloschin
  • Stelio Verzera
  • Steve Pruneau
  • Steve Tendon
  • Steven Mak
  • Steven Voyles
  • Sunish Chabba
  • Tahlia Oliver
  • Thomas Walenta
  • Yuri Malishenko

With Thanks to Our Corporate Members

With Thanks to our Corporate Members

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