Tuesday, July 01, 2008

How do you measure Agility?

Here’s a suggestion: Agility is a measure of the time it takes between an organization deciding something and action being taken.

Ideally you would also measure the time it takes from an event to the organization recognising the event, realising a decision was needed, making it and then acting. But some events aren’t events, they are gradual build ups, at some point they pass the “tipping point” and action is required. How do you know when you should recognise the event?

Moving on slightly.

Some people have suggested that organizations should be modular. (John Seely Browns argument in The Only Sustainable Edge touched on this.) If a unit isn’t working swap it out and up in a better one, or a more high performing one. Business design is taking on aspects of software design. The modular corporation can swap its call centre in Aberdeen for one in Mumbai.

People who advocate this also suggest that the corporation becomes more more Agile as a result. If you need more call centre operators just power up another centre somewhere in the world. If you need more sales people just hire a sales force module. But I’m not sure.

I can see how this would allow you to flex capacity, and for a stable organization it may allow them to respond more quickly. However, in a rapidly evolving environment, one were you don’t know what’s happening its going to take time to identify the module you want, sign the contracts and switch them on. And that’s assuming you can buy in the business module you want and you have compatible interfaces. If you can’t you might have to build an adaptor.

In an innovative environment that is changing fast, or just one that is poorly defined, bringing in a third party is going to complicate things. Someone else to talk to, another organization, what are their standards? Do they understand the domain? Are the property rights clear? And so on.

In some environments I think Agility is enhanced by having everything done in house. Learning and change should be a lot faster when everyone works for the same corporation, have the same objectives, and don’t have to keep secrets.

When you add organizational boundaries it slows down recognition of events, decisions and action.