Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Creating the Agile and Nimble Organization

I have been thinking about the challenges we are facing in our colleges and universities, and how to build the teams and the IT organizations that are ready for future challenges.  Martin Ringle, CIO at Reed College, and I have chatted a little, and Marty extended an invitation to present and participate in a strategic discussion at the NorthWest Academic Computing Consortium (NWACC).  I accepted with pleasure; I thought the interaction with such a talented group of IT leaders would be inspirational (and it was).

Knowing that I needed to be ready was the best motivation to pull my ideas together.  First, all the talk about MOOCs and cloud computing had pushed the idea that our organizations need to change. There are many articles about higher ed IT being in a period of transformation; for example:

"A Transformative Period:  Is Higher Education IT Having an Identity Crisis?"  Grama, Joanna Lyn. EDUCAUSE Review Online, June 2013.
If we are indeed in a transformative period, a different organization model, one that is more nimble and agile (not to be confused with formal agile methodology), would be better equipped to be successful.   If that's so, what are the characteristics of an agile and nimble organization? How do we know when we have fully addressed those components?  I'm going to make that the focus of my blogging efforts for a while.

I started with a basic review of business literature and found these documents from the business world:
Blanchard, Stacy, Cheese, Peter, Silverstone, Yaarit, and Smith, David. (2009, October).  "Creating an Agile Organization". Outlook: The Journal of high-performing business. 
Project Management Institute. (2012). "Organizational Agility".  PMI's Pulse of the Profession.
Selingo, Jeffrey J. "Attitudes on Innovation: How College Leaders and Faculty See Key Issues Facing Higher Education," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2013

The McKinsey Quarterly. (2006) "Building a nimble organization: A McKinsey Global Survey".  The McKinsey Quarterly.

The business world experienced this transformative state after the 2008 economic crisis.  The literature from that realm suggests the following response mechanisms as key success components:

  • Quick response to strategic opportunities
  • Shorter decision cycles
  • Focus on change and risk management
  • Integrating the customer voice
  • Building interdisciplinary project teams

From those readings and analyzing other general news comments, I've built the following list of components that I am calling the "Agility Resource Model":

These eight characteristics would represent the resources we need to manage if we are to create agile organizations.  The numbers, for now, are placeholders indicating an equal slice.  I am working on building a model behind the resource display that would allow an organizational leader to do some assessment and analyze how well leadership is addressing each of the eight resource factors.

Those who traditionally manage projects will recognize the time / people / money resources that are managed in any project.  But if we are creating organizations that need to be resilient and response in changing times, we cannot limit our thinking to those three resources.  Transformative periods, characterized by turbulence, instability, and ambiguous, unknown futures, require organizations to be nimble.   IT organizations need to present adaptability in addition to speed; they must be quick to adapt. We need to change tactics and direction quickly, and once headed in a direction, we need to maintain a fast pace.  We need to demonstrate responsiveness to impacts that will inevitably occur; we need to respond, not panic or succumb to being overwhelmed.

Over the next few weeks, I'll explore this topic in more depth.  As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback.