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Operational Agility Readiness Domain

An organization's success strongly depends on responsive decision making by boards and staff to efficiently identify and pursue opportunities to create new value for members and constituents. This capacity includes both culture and operational elements. Culturally the organization must nurture collective ideation and experimentation—an attitude that embraces curiosity as the pathway to learning. Operationally, the organization must adopt agile project management to accelerate prototyping and continuous improvement. And organization-wide, the board, and staff must agree on a standard set of metrics to optimize workflows and make budgeting choices.

Our maturity model for operational agility includes four requisites for business-innovation readiness: cultivating curiosity, architecting inner agility, adopting the agile method, and scaling change across the organization. In turn, these requisites were the basis of the five high-performance descriptors as survey items in the diagnostic instrument.

Cultivating Curiosity

When organizations accept surprises as a positive experience, a mindset will prevail where failures are embraced as opportunities for learning. In this way, the organization empowers staff and volunteers to generate, test, and validate ideas. Nurturing this culture of curiosity at all layers in the organization keeps everyone open-minded and eager to learn. Not all critical decisions require proof from experiments and testing. However, it is important to expect that innovative ideas that are supported by key metrics and empirical results must prevail over strong opinions that lack compelling evidence.

A productive mindset of curiosity must also recognize the need for discipline and management. Tolerance for failure is okay if there is no tolerance for incompetence. Innovative organizations should set high standards of performance at all levels of the organization. Open innovation through broad-based collaboration is fully supported when aligned with individual accountability. A diverse array of collaborators with a strong collective responsibility will develop venture ideas that are feasible and viable.

Architecting Inner Agility

Disruptive times call for inner agility to navigate new and accelerating challenges effectively. However, association leaders facing acute external disruption sometimes freeze in place or ignore the problem by shunting it off to another committee or board task force. To counter this analysis paralysis, inner agility allows leaders to face complexity. Comfort with uncertainty comes with spotting opportunities and threats to reveal a path to solutions.

Good ideas come from anywhere. Embracing the unknown is very hard because it means letting go of the need to know everything right now. Comfort comes from a deep listening mode that creates the space to hear the ideas of others. Inner agility is about accepting less control but doesn't mean embracing the chaos. Faced with the unknowns for external disruption, the organization has two choices: reduce discomfort by falling back on the trusted habit of stasis or embrace the complexity and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Inner agility is a core organizational ability to recognize when things are going off course quickly and to adjust based on learning. With insights on lessons learned, association board members and senior leaders must set a priority of what is the innovation path and when to discontinue doing things that no longer make sense.

Adopting the Agile Method

All types of organizations are increasingly adopting agile methodologies. In the Pulse of the Profession, Project Management Institute's 2018 survey[1], 87 percent of surveyed organizations engage in some use of agile methods within the past year. Agile is a broadly accepted term for multiple methodologies that introduce short phases of work collaboration and improvement. Whichever agile method is selected, each organization must develop a playbook of their endorsed protocols and tools so that all team members are operationally aligned. In this way, teams can produce repeatable results. In turn, the adoption of organization-wide collaboration is more compelling, given a well-designed agile playbook to ensure business-innovation processes are integrated, efficient, and useful.

Scaling Change Across the Organization

To achieve real business-innovation readiness, it is not enough for an association to have separate teams working in an agile way, while the rest of the organization uses traditional waterfall workflows. It is perfectly fine to incrementally introduce agile methods if the goal remains full deployment across the organization. Over time, agile operational practices should move beyond the small team project level to the organizational level.

Agile Method versus Traditional Waterfall Method

These charts show the distinction between a traditional and Agile project over the same period.

  • Agile reduces complexity by breaking down the typical long cycle of a traditional project into one to four-week periods, called iterations, containing small, user-ready segments of the final product that were developed and tested during the iteration.
  • Although risk still exists in both, the primary outcome is that Agile Project Delivery has a working product after each iteration.
  • This product improves throughout the release due to the continuous feedback that is incorporated at several points in the lifecycle.

Adapted from Agile Project Delivery, Confidence to mitigate project risks and deliver value to your business. PWC July 2017.