I dedicated a recent blog post on the definition of the word “agility,” and for good reason. Finding ways for your business, and the analytics it runs on, to become and remain agile, even at global scale, is no small task; but the payoff is huge in terms of gaining competitive advantage in existing markets and leveraging new ones. I’ve written a lot on the Sentient Enterprise journey to become more agile over time, but some of you have asked to learn more on how to assess a company’s current level of agility. It’s an important question, since an accurate picture of where you are today is also your starting point for making things better tomorrow. So here are a few tips I’d like to share for working up a good baseline assessment on agility.
Conduct an Independent Agility Audit
I’ve written before on the importance of asking the right questions so you can pinpoint where the hurdles and opportunities lie. A “warts and all” checklist that looks at how you handle data, product development, funding, project management and other operations is a crucial first step in getting your organization primed for an agility makeover.
As you might guess, however, the navel gazing usually doesn’t go well when it’s done solely from within the company. That’s why I recommend you invest in an agility audit by an outside party – with no biases or political ties to your company – to help establish an independent, baseline assessment of how agile your analytics operations and processes currently are. The audit should be thorough and company-wide, with resulting collateral like presentations, trainings and a road map for change that includes future steps toward agility.
Build a Realistic “Hit List” of Existing Needs and Short Term Wins
Regardless of whether you do it yourself or get outside help, make sure to work up an itemized and prioritized backlog of current issues and tasks that need addressing. Your list should include some early wins – changes that can be made quickly and fairly easily – along with areas in need of more far reaching transitions that may require months or even years to implement. This process can help you uncover and socialize the practices and areas where your company is agile, and highlight those areas where agility lags.
Stay realistic as you build this list. As much as I advocate looking to startups and entrepreneurial practices for lessons and insights around agility, we can’t ignore some basic organizational realities that come with being a large company. Especially for publicly traded firms, for example, strict budgeting and reporting processes are a fact of life. No amount of cheerleading for agility can change that. But compromises are possible: Look to see if current policies allow you to designate annual or quarterly-funded “programs” that, in turn, support flexible allocation to a portfolio of short-term pilot projects. This lets you act like a startup internally, while still honoring big business norms around budgets and finance.
Assess Prospects for Ready-Made Internal Partnerships
You may be more agile than you think! That’s because — depending on your business — your assessment may uncover certain departments or operations that lend themselves to agile partnerships. Certain operations, like marketing, tend to work quickly and incrementally, with feedback loops built in. Marketing campaigns typically run on short cycles and measure progress frequently through surveys, social media and other channels. These kinds of operations match the agile cadence of your analytics approach, so they’re ripe for immediate collaboration.
Sometimes the same kind of operation will vary in suitability depending on the business context. The pace of supply chain operations, for example, may be ripe for agile analytics in the case of just-in-time parts provision manufacturing, or in e-commerce. Other contexts, like longer-term supply chain operations at a government agency, could take additional effort to partner up. Every business is unique, so the picture will be different for each company. But, at least you’ll have a snapshot of where you are today on the roadmap to agility.