Business agility is advertised as a way for enterprises work faster, smarter, and more successfully. What’s not to love about this trifecta of happiness?

If you were to ask project managers in some enterprises that have tried to integrate business agility principles into their policies and workflows, they will tell a sad and painful story about over-promising and under-delivering. In fact, most (if not all) of them will reveal that overall performance, results, and customer satisfaction have regressed since the business agility experiment began, and employee morale has plunged.

What is Contributing to the Lack of Business Agility?

Understandably, this dejection has triggered a deep suspicion of—or in some cases, an outright aversion towards—business agility itself. As such, project managers and their colleagues feel obligated to consign business agility to that crowded graveyard of concepts that sound good in theory, but do not apply in the real world. Except: it does.

Despite its somewhat faddish-sounding label, make no mistake—business agility is pragmatic, not philosophical. Essentially, business agility is about stripping way the superficial layers of pseudo-work (we’re looking at you excessive status meetings!), so that work can efficiently move forward towards competition. In this light, business agility is not a re-invention of work. It is a rehabilitation and a reclamation of work.

However, as mentioned some enterprises that have tried to adopt business agility say that the experience, to some degree, has been regrettable instead of rewarding. Yet, we have also noted that business agility itself is not to blame for this opinion. So, what is the problem?

The problem is that business agility has some enemies. As Sun Tzu sagely advised in the The Art of War, the battle is won or lost before it is fought. Similarly, enterprises that want their business agile approach to take root and deliver sustainable results must slay three deadly

1. Spreadsheet Addiction

We have said it before, and we will say it again on behalf of the long-suffering project managers out there who urgently need mercy and relief. Spreadsheets are not (and never have been) a primary project management tool because they:

  • Cannot provide team members with an accurate, up-to-the-moment picture of what is really going on.
  • Do not provide context, which means that team members must dig around and find supporting documentation to translate raw information into business intelligence. 
  • Cannot effectively manage intake, approvals or tracking, which triggers a host of project governance woes.
  • Impose an excessive administrative burden on the poor souls who must manually update spreadsheets— and then do it again when (not if) errors happen.
  • Do not create an audit trail, which is not just a compliance issue, but make it much tougher and more time-consuming for new team members to get up-to-speed.
  • Completely fail to support any of the portfolio management functions that today’s enterprises need, such as keeping track of multi-year cross-functional initiatives, prioritizing project selection based on weighted priority scoring, and so on.
  • Are inherently insecure, with no way to block access to certain parts of a spreadsheet. Anyone who has the password (which even a low-level hacker can obtain) sees everything.

2. Bloated Phase-Gating

There is arguably no faster or surer way to cut business agility off at the knees than for PMOs (project management offices) to implement bureaucratic, one-way processes that grind phase-gating down to a crawl. What’s more, creativity and innovation get sucked down the bureaucracy drain, as well. As a result, it is impossible for teams and enterprises to effectively or reliably:

  • Align project requests with organizational initiatives and investments 
  • Ensure quality assurance across cross-functional teams
  • Manage risks and threats
  • Exploit innovations and opportunities
  • Establish consistent standards and repeatable processes

3. Conventional On-Premise Project Management Software

Some enterprises that are not addicted to spreadsheets or have functional phase-gating may think that they are in the clear when it comes to reaping the rewards of business agility. Unfortunately, there is a third deadly foe that is more than powerful enough to turn a success story into a horror tale: conventional on-premise project management software.

It’s difficult to underestimate the far-reaching damage that conventional on-premise project management software inflicts on projects and people. For example:

  • Confusion, chaos and conflict reign because teams work in silos vs. on a collaborative platform.
  • There is little or no visibility at both the portfolio and project level. Executives and project managers must rely on best guestimates instead of reliable, hard data.
  • Teams are disengaged and disconnected, because they cannot see how their work influences the bigger picture. Compared to their engaged counterparts in other organizations, disengaged workers are less productive and make more errors. What’s more, the really bad ones stick around, while the good ones head for the exit.
  • Different departments, teams, and even individual workers are “doing their own thing.” There are no standards (at least not enforceable ones), and the only thing that is consistent about workflows is that they are inconsistent.

Winning the Battle for Business Agility

While the deadly foes that conspire to thwart business agility are powerful and must not be underestimated, slaying them is not the stuff of legend: it is a matter of adopting an enterprise collaborative work management (CWM) solution that:

  • Safely and permanently ends spreadsheet addiction. No, this does not necessarily mean that spreadsheets are banished from the project management landscape. But yes, it certainly does mean that they get booted from the throne and take their rightful place as an auxiliary project management tool, not as flagship solution.
  • Liberates phase-gating from the clutches of ever-increasing bureaucracy, so that project selection, intake, approvals, reviews, and other key decisions at the portfolio and project levels are made quickly and correctly the first time.
  • Centralizes communication, documentation, and all other project information on a single, shared and secure cloud-based platform. This platform should be automatically updated in real time and is supported by a full range of enterprise-grade tools for project planning, scheduling, resourcing, tracking, financial management, risk management, change management and more.

The Bottom Line on Improving Business Agility

When enterprises add a collaborative work management solution to their environment, they do more than give business agility a fighting chance to survive: they give it the power to thrive. Instead of over-promising and under-delivering, business agility takes flight and sustainably elevates productivity, performance, results and success.

 

Angela Bunner

About Author Angela Bunner

Angela Bunner is Vice President of Solutions at Clarizen. With nearly 20 years of experience in the project portfolio management space, Angela’s industry background spans engineering/construction, professional services, aerospace/defense and the public sector. She also has extensive experience working with embedded service organizations such as IT and marketing PMOs.