Agile versus business agility

When I hear the word agile, I think of the class of system development life cycle methodologies that are fairly people-oriented. Agile methodologies assume that change will occur and they are flexible enough to handle it. Characteristics include (you can also see my post called, Choose a methodology that suits your project):

  • Short iterative cycles.
  • Frequent, defined client feedback.
  • Changes (evolution) from one iteration to the next.
  • Modification of previous components to adapt.

As companies migrate their systems to more of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) approach, agile development methodologies are proliferating. These approaches are very useful for developing reusable components - a necessity for SOA.

What does "business agility" mean?

The ability to rapidly adapt and capitalize on opportunities or overcome problems. It does not necessarily imply that you are reactive or proactive. In truth, agility means you can adapt readily in preparation or response to stimuli. Obviously, having reusable components and an SOA framework support business agility. However, true business agility is more than just that.

I remember reading, The Regis Touch - New Marketing Strategies for Uncertain Times by Regis McKenna. In his book, Regis illustrated one of the best examples of business agility that I have come across. He recalled an experience he had when he was working as a consultant with Intel. Intel's sales teams had encountered a issue with their customers asking them about a pending competitive microprocessor product launch from Motorola, the 68000 processor. Customers were considering holding off purchases until they could assess Motorola's offering.

This message reached the ears of Intel's executives who organized a marketing response which included their product roadmap and vision. In addition, they setup seminars with clients where Intel could capitalize on the credibility of their executive staff (e.g., Gordon Moore & Andy Grove.) This marketing strategy was relayed back down to their sales staff who championed it.

Intel's actions avoided a significant competitive threat. The amazing part is that it only took 7 days for Intel to generate their positioning strategy and put it into place. That's business agility!

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