2012 and the Agility Advantage

This is usually a good time of year to make predictions; in the digital world the opportunities are endless.

But instead, I think this year is a better time for recognition, an affirmation if you will, that agility is not only important, but it’s becoming the primary digital business advantage.

(Digital) Business Advantage
We’re all pretty aware that the pace of business is moving faster. Companies have been talking about accelerating, optimizing and innovating for years. Agile software development has been around for over a decade, so what’s different now?

The difference is how disruptive agility is becoming to the core business and how unaware and ill-prepared most companies are for the coming change.

Top themes in our discussions with business leaders:

  • Agility is the advantage: Companies can’t afford to be “done” with projects in a world where competitors can quickly copy (and nullify) whatever competitive advantage your new web site or mobile app was promised to provide. Agility itself is often the defining advantage in the marketplace.
  • Change is the constant: Transformation, disruption and adaption are no longer single events to be managed. They are the new normal of business, and they are accelerating.
  • Fast follower is a losing option: What value or advantage is created by examining what competitors have already done, particularly when it will likely change again before you can respond to their first effort?

If your primary focus and investment is in redesigning your web site or creating a new social media marketing campaign then it might be time to look a little further down the road.

The Paradox of Agility
Most initial efforts to increase agility will usually result in the company slowing…the paradox of agility. Not slowing in activity—that’s usually off the charts—but a slowing in the ability of the company to create new value, advantage or even fully complete one digital initiative before bouncing to the next in ever-increasing cycles (sales-driven companies, I’m looking at you).

Instead, the faster you want to go, the more strategic and dedicated to the long term you (and your leadership) need to be.

  • Want the agility of Amazon?  CEO Jeff Bezos often talks about planning 4-5 years out for “new” digital game changers
  • Innovate like Apple? Former CEO Steve Jobs described his vision for the iPhone and iPad in 2001, talking about the Digital Hub
  • Change the game like Barnes & Noble? They invested in creating an entirely new (and separate) digital team dedicated to redefining their future

Digital Agility Requires Forgetting about Digital
Rather than focusing on how to do more digital initiatives faster, first put digital aside.  There are three foundations you’ll need before digital discussions will be helpful

  1. Understand customer needs—the problems you solve, not the products or services you sell.
  2. Understand how your company can consistently differentiate and win, given customer needs.
  3. Define what business capabilities you need to deliver on points 1&2.

Get through these are you’re ready to start talking about how the design of your people, process and digital platforms can enable new capabilities, accelerate innovation and growth, and (of course) increase your company’s agility and advantage in the market.

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