What is the difference between Agile and (business or enterprise) Agility?

Agile was originally devised in the software community. In 2001, a group of IT experts got together to create the Agile Manifesto for software development:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

The past 2 decades, many IT organizations moved to Agile teams, iteratively working on software product development. Recently, companies started adopting the Agile way of working to other functions. This is what is called ‘business agility’. A good definition is provided by the business agility consortium:

Business Agility is the ability of an organisation to:

  • Adapt quickly to market changes – internally and externally –
  • Respond rapidly and flexibly to customer demands
  • Adapt and lead change in a productive and cost-effective way without compromising quality
  • Continuously be at a competitive advantage

In most organizations, this agility is implemented by adopting ways of working that were invented in the software community. Mostly people will adopt scrum or kanban for agile marketing, agile sales, agile finance, agile human resources or agile operations. For us, the term business agility initially refers to a ‘silo’ or ‘department’ adopting the agile principles. They start working as a team in agile iterations or sprints of 1 or 2 weeks. They create visibility and transparency by creating work items that can be written on ‘sticky notes’ and pasted to a board on the wall. They will plan events similar to software teams: sprint planning, daily standup, sprint review and sprint retrospective. Most teams will adjust the number, contents and cadence of these events.

The agile team may also create roles like product owner or scrum master, but in most functions this is not the ideal set of roles. Teams can experiment with having a role like a business owner (who decides together with the team what the team will work on). We can then add the role of Agile coach to ensure that the team adopts the right habits and agile mindset. Within the team, the roles can be based on what existed before. If a team adopts kanban, kanban suggests starting with the roles that were already in place.

Enterprise agility essentially is the same as ‘business agility’, but in our perspective refers to adoption of Agile on a bigger scale. Instead of ‘doing agile’ in specific departments, The goal is to remove the silos that have always existed in an enterprise (marketing, sales, finance, operations, etc). Instead, we create ‘cross departmental’ teams, often called ‘squads’. The squad works on a specific ‘value stream’ or ‘customer service’ or ‘product’. All the functions sit together and have a common goal. An interesting example of enterprise agile adoption is the ING way of working.

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