Agile working requires bridging strategy to operations

18 February 2020 5 min. read
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Consultancy Anderson MacGyver recently organised the Governing Agile Summit, an event for directors and managers in business and IT. During the well-attended event, visitors were given insight into the importance of embedding Agile working at the top of the organisation, and the need for bridging strategy to operations.

The event kicked off with a word from Joachim Vandecasteele, who pointed out that while Agile has proven its merit as a way of improving change and renewal, there remain several caveats in implementing and embedding it as a new way of working within an organisation. Leading on from this, one of the key takeaways from the event was the need to make sure Agile is involved in the translation from strategy through to operations.

Strategic alignment is central, Edwin Wieringa of Anderson MacGyver explained in his presentation. This starts with the classification of all strategic pillars on one canvas. For each pillar, all business activities and requirements from business and technology are filled in at all layers (strategic, coordinating and executing). After this, it is ensured that Agile initiatives are in line with the themes on the canvas.

Agile working requires bridging strategy to operations

Wieringa: “The top players communicate the strategic focus and central themes of Agile every nine to 12 months. All teams within a digitally mature organisation deliver a form of value that is in line with this business strategy. ”

Agile work at PostNL

Marcel Krom, CIO of PostNL, is an Anderson MacGyver customer and has been using this approach since 2017. PostNL has to deal with a constantly changing and highly competitive environment, in which customers are increasingly demanding, so working agile helps the company in rapidly navigating this environment.

Krom stated, “We are constantly trying to do better and to predict things better. For that we need to be able to test and roll out new solutions quickly.”

"An Agile-scale transition takes years, but then you have something good in your hands.”
– Marcel Krom, CIO of PostNL

When starting its Agile adoption three years ago, PostNL first worked to build up internal familiarity, before Agile was scaled up to a company-wide transformation. Meanwhile, around 100 Agile teams and 14 internal coaches have come to work within PostNL based on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). PostNL is reaping the results of the new way of working. For example, the delivery process is more efficient (optimised collection and delivery routes) and the company can deliver near real-time information to customers about the time of delivery.

According to Krom, contact with customers has also been digitised and employees have more time internally for tasks with a higher added value. Despite this early success, there is still work to do however. Krom claimed that "an Agile-scale transition takes about three to five years.”

Agile focus in control

While Krom emphasised how important it is that board members commit to Agile change from the top, Marjolijn Feringa, independent consultant and author of book "Agile focus in control", went one step further in the event’s third presentation. She argued that the boardroom also benefits from working Agile, if properly arranged and supervised.

“Every company has plenty of ideas about its own added value,” Feringa explained. “We make beautiful slogans, corporate films and brochures. But the implementation often crashes."

Agile leadership can help with visualising the strategy, creating speed in implementation, time management and closer mutual cooperation between managers. A ‘focus board’ facilitates this process, including strategy, performance indicators, initiatives and milestones on the chosen time-frame.

Feringa is involved as an Agile coach in this approach at Rabobank and unpacks how the bank's group management applies it. At Rabobank, the approach is now cascading to underlying functions and departments, and vice-versa, because the movement also came from the layers below.

She added, "In order to ensure that the cooperation runs as smoothly as possible, we have agreed rules on the process in advance. Ultimately, everyone sees to what extent what they are doing is part of the big picture and large processes are making progress faster."

“Working on projects based on strategy. That is the coat rack that is needed for Agile work.”
– Gerard Wijers, Anderson MacGyver

From strategy to Agile

Speaking at the closing plenary, Gerard Wijers, co-founder of Anderson MacGyver, summed up the event with the main lesson of the evening.

“The strategy must first be clear in order to be able to work on projects from the company's interest. That is the coat rack that is needed for Agile work. "

In practice, this certainly does not appear to have been done, because, he expanded, “Agile works very well for aligning business and technology, and for change processes in relation to the daily routine. But there is still a gap between strategic management and the operations of the Agile teams.”