Improving the delivery of software projects. Every long term project starts at the operational level. Key actors: line managers. How to prove operational agility?

Start at the beginning – operational agility

Within the context of organizational agility, the long term, strategic aspects often dominate. Small wonder: this is sexy, involves great transformational thought and aspirations. Building models and using imagination is understandably more attractive than the gritty little details of operational daily reality. Nevertheless, no big, bold concept has any chance of survival, without well-done operational agility. There are three reasons for this.

Operational agility saves time

First: structural changes, innovations and other strategic actions all require a fair amount of time for implementation. Operational agility, the incremental stuff, gains time for deeper changes to evolve.

Second is trust from all stakeholders. Unless the change leaders provide evidence of their transformational commitment and ability to implement strictly, the customers, investors and employees are not likely to fully engage.

Third is the skills and knowledge. Operational agility initiatives often provide a critical mass of insights, experiences which more strategic transformation phases need.

Client’s needs above all, for the proper use of networks

So what is operational agility? My practical definition is very simple: accelerated business process improvement, preferably with direct client impact. This is not simply automation or technology projects implemented! True, this is its core, providing the infrastructure, but not the thing itself. In an analogy, no one says the transportation network equals trade or a monetary system equals commerce. Putting technology in place quickly and in focus is essential, but insufficient if clients do not see their needs understood faster, solutions provided better and user value demonstrated consistently. Continuing the analogy, it is the proper use of the networks, infrastructure that matters, and that could be accelerated without much strategy or business model change.

I can see three levels of operational agility, beyond technology platforms:

Change agents 
  1. Stronger internal selling, convincing critical employee populations to start using new technologies and create new ways of work as they experiment. Yes, we can create formal objectives and rewards, but we start to change essentially when we see others – whom we respect and appreciate – doing so. So knowing these influencers and winning them over at an early stage is a wise accelerator, and needs doing.
Get to know your influencers by networks research
Modern networks research methods 
  1. Once we start doing our jobs differently, possibly more tech-enabled, questions will arise. Yes, there is online help and smart tutorials, but very few people look at them. Few people read owners manuals any more. We could use trial and error. No problem, it teaches, but maybe way too slowly. So alternatively, we ask trusted and available people. Most of us have these ‘safe sources’ in mind, but organizations typically do not acknowledge this function. Has anyone seen “help others making the change” among business objectives? One reason why not, or why so few, is because we can not be sure who the right ones to ask for this are. It is easy to hide low performance under the “yes, but I helped others score” argument. And yet, modern network research offers methods to point out these hubs of expertise.
A new ecosystem 
  1. The third component comes into play when individual work patterns change most of the cases. New ways of work typically redefine groups, and roles within and among the groups. In fact, this new hidden organization has little to do with formal structures and hierarchies, but is less visible and obvious to those outside the new ecosystem. Why is this a problem? If we do not visualize the new network of groups, then we make decisions, resource allocations, plans and metrics on the basis of the legacy structures. And that, is a problem. It manifests itself in a dual reality for those involved: real processes and flows happen among teams and communities, whereas formal organizational life exists as second language. Running two parallel structures is costly, time consuming, and therefore slow.

Speed up operational agility with network research!

In summary, operational agility is essential – creating the foundations for bigger, braver changes. To speed up operations, technology must underpin business processes, starting with the ones facing the client and then going deeper. There is wide agreement that communications networks are the cornerstone of any modern organization, from the military, through governments, NGOs and businesses. This blog argues that we pay inadequate attention to the networks of people and groups. If we map, enhance and design those networks with the same professionalism as we do IT networks, we could remove a great deal of slowdown factors at little cost. What better proposition to boost operational agility than this is there?

We propose that in parallel with your technology investment, invest in understanding hidden networks and then unlock potential for greater speed, resource savings and better employee and client experience.