Agility in the Cloud

Interview with Felix Evert

Cloud computing creates great possibilities which need to be used wisely. Agiliy is one way to use them well. I spoke with Felix Evert, Head of Enterprise and agile Consulting at the Cloudibility, about the opportunities an organization can realize taking the agile journey.

What is agility?

One would think that in my position, I am able to pull a conclusive definition from the hat. Very often we see contributions or speakers who champion a very specific understanding of agility which, by virtue of definition, is presented to be the (only) true understanding of agility. I appreciate the willingness to take a stance. However, I am not certain that any such exclusive attempts to definition are able to accommodate for the great variety of approaches that could reasonably be called agility.

Instead, let us take the perspective of organizations. Why would an organization be interested in transforming into a state of agility? Out of the many, often intertwined reasons, I can see four entry points, voiced as expectations: accelerating business processes, exhibiting greater adaptability to change business contexts, shifting focus to the customer’s needs, and a less authoritarian mindset.

What is the benefit of seeing agility as expectation?

This diagnostic lever reminds us what really matters. It’s not our superior knowledge about Scrum for that matter; it is about the client’s ambition to transform into a more sustainable, forward-thinking organization. We are looking at vastly different organizations, and people working in these organizations have very individual aspirations and limitations. For me, it is important to understand which direction the business is heading and where the starting point of the journey to agility is. It is all about expectations.

„Agility has become the cipher for a new understanding of organizing business and work.“

Could you elaborate on the mentioned four agile expectations?

Accelerating business processes come in many different flavours: the ability to act quickly, effectively and in a more result-oriented manner, the ability to make critical decisions faster or to produce results in shorter periods of time or – also something easier said than done – establish innovations in a shorter period of time.

Adaptability could be understood as mastering the need for change in a flexible and creative manner, could mean taking a more embracing stance towards change in general. Obviously, adaptability doesn’t mean that companies have to adapt to every external change like a chameleon. Adaptability realizes very differently things based on the company’s history – which for German mittelstand usually is a history of success – and the broader market dynamics. In those contexts adaptability very often starts with having systematic discourse about what impulses are worth the need for change and which aren’t.

Shifting focus to the client’s needs may mean the expectation of being able to react precisely and quickly to customer needs in the form of creating value for the customer. Most readers will find this statement obvious to the point of banality. But I have doubt. Do we really know the customer well? Do we really understand what creates value for the customer? Again, it could be tempting to regard agility as a toolset that helps increase an output called ‘customer value’. For me, that is not enough. Shifting focus starts with a sincere and candid interest in that specific entity which businesses consider customers, and it goes as far as envisioning the customer’s need before she/he herself/himself under- stands it.

An agile mindset often entails the expectation of more appreciative inter- action among colleagues, with every- one communication at eye level, the willingness to give up hierarchical and bureaucratic structures and, in return, to create spaces of trust. Agile mindset also means wanting and enduring transparency in decision-making. You name it. It is probably the most over- loaded expectation of all. Who whole- heartedly enjoys the prospect of having one’s mind changed? At the same time, we’re talking about some very complex concepts like openness or transparency that can have very different meaning for different people. Agility is nothing you can readily implement, it means to put great expectations on an organization like starting a journey that never ends.

Doesn’t all this increase the pressure on individual employees?

It sure does which is exactly the reason I am suggesting the expectation perspective. Business are looking for new ways to handle business challenges. But if we associate agility too easily with specific tools or too exclusive definitions, we further increase the pressure to fit in. It will feel no different to traditional management practice. Agility has become the cipher for a new understanding of organizing business and work; an understanding that is no longer build on assembly line thinking. However, this change needs to be established respectfully and adequately.

Which brings us to the central question. Why is agility important at all?

We can all agree that our world of the early 21st century is rapidly changing. Social and economic globalization, digitization, climate change and transformative technology continuously disrupt or complicate our understanding. I find it reasonable that those development create uncertainty, lack of reliability. But it also creates business challenges. Present-days hyper-competitiveness is a direct result of the said mega trends. All this creates so much complexity and ambiguity to deal with: What can we rely on? What will be valid tomorrow? I believe the expectation, that agility can enable organizations and people within organization to better master those complexity and uncertainty to be true. However, we shouldn’t be tempted to conquer complexity with undercomplex solutions. Again, agility, according to my understanding, is an inherently open process.

What is the role of cloud computing in this context?

Cloud computing is one of those transformative technologies that con- tribute to the ever changing world. Cloud computing is what I call enabling technology as it has the potential to enable completely new business processes. Cloud is a speed driver that is often perceived as a threat, but is also the basis for agility. The challenge is to make the potential available and then also use it through changed processes, mindsets, knowledge that then generate agility. Agility for Cloudibility is the combination of technology and the organization that provides the mindset, the people and the knowledge to harness the potential of the cloud.

 

The interview was conducted by Friederike Zelke.