Focus on Agility, not just ‘Agile’!

“Agility is our ability to respond to business change.”

Ah, the world of software development. Something that takes me back to my Vodafone and Amazon daze (not a typo) – a realm where terms like "agile" and "business agility" are tossed around like strawberries at Wimbledon. 

But do we really understand the difference between these buzzwords? 

Imperial College London, renowned for its academic prowess, found itself pondering this very question. As they delved into the world of teaching agile software development, they discovered a rather perplexing predicament - the students were getting tangled up in the process and technical complexities while losing sight of the customer's needs, the people and outcomes. 

Enter the need for a flip in focus, a change in mindset, and an emphasis on the human elements of business agility and agile methodology.

“Agility is our ability to respond to business change.” Chris Argent, GENCFO

What does ‘business agility’ mean?

When we talk about business agility, we're not envisioning a team of corporate ninjas jumping over hot desks and tumbling into meetings, though that would be quite a sight. 

No, business agility refers to a businesses ability to respond to change in the market, customer demands, and internal dynamics. In essence, it's about staying nimble and dynamic in an ever-evolving world. 

For a CFO and finance team, that means working on its ability to respond to business stakeholders, business performance and business change.

Agile methodology, on the other hand, is a set of practices and principles, aiming to deliver valuable software early and continuously. 

For a CFO, they may wish to borrow from the Agile manifesto and enable a valuable partnering approach, and deliver analytics or automation capabilities. Is this the agility we need?

Process madness

Now, here's where it gets interesting – students at Imperial College London found themselves caught in the rigidity of agile practices. Something I remember from my BI and Analytics days. 

Meetings, points of process, documentation - oh my! 

It felt like they were stuck in a never-ending loop of "process madness" rather than focusing on creating software that delighted the business. The essence of agility was getting lost in a whirlwind of checkboxes and ceremonies and there was a risk of failing or worse, throwing the whole methodology out.  

So, the wise heads at the college decided to take a step back and shake things up - something I proposed in all my roles, but was sadly met with blank faces at board level due to the lack of data and digital literacy.

They teamed up with the creative minds at the Royal College of Art, particularly the department of Service Design, to concoct a new course - "Designing for Real People." 

Here, they put the user front and centre, blending user-research and design thinking with iterative software delivery. They aimed to create software that didn't just meet technical marvel standards but rather addressed real user needs.

Something I applaud and working on myself with Mike Rose, developing a people centred digital transformation program called FLIP.

My takeaways

Here are some key takeaways from this educational example and some comment on what I do:

'Agile Lite'

The focus was more on getting the ceremonies right than on delivering value. Stripe back the process and focus on outcomes.

Be human

Process adherence alone can lead to robotic efforts. The emphasis should be on delivering iterative improvements based on human feedback.

Embrace feedback

The value of user feedback is critical.  Use of video clips of partnering meetings and user sessions drive the rest of the agile process.

Innovation Collaboration: Combining multidisciplinary talent encourages both technical excellence and user satisfaction. Working together as equal partners fostered a holistic approach.

Principles versus rules

Ah, the age-old debate and a tricky one for a rules based profession like accounting and finance.  Letting people embrace agility in their own way focused on their own outcomes can drive better understanding of the methods.

So, what happened?

And according to Imperial College London - The result of this transformation? Success! 

Students became more attuned to the impact of iterating a product in response to user feedback, maximising the value they delivered. They learned to dance to the beat of the customer's needs, rather than just following choreographed agile moves.

For finance teams, we can reduce risk of agile and transformation failure by educating core and technical teams in agility, not agile, and develop finance business partners to become the driver of digital value.

So, what's the moral of this tale? 

Business agility and agile methodology are not just about technical prowess; they're about a mindset, a philosophy, a way of approaching software development that revolves around satisfying the customer through continuous value delivery. 

It's time to ditch the blind adherence to process and the technology and tool focus and embrace the spirit of agility. After all, we can perfect the steps, but the real magic happens when we step in time to the rhythm of the business.




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Christopher Argent, Founder, GENCFO

Chris is the founder and MD of and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!

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