What Makes a Business Agile? And How Can You Achieve It?

Any business can become agile, even hulking bureaucracies.

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Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily, overcoming obstacles in a nimble, arguably graceful way. In the business context, agility is a similar quality, allowing a business to make changes and decisions quickly. This property confers a number of advantages, often making a business more competitive (or even more profitable).  

But what exactly is it that makes a business agile? And how can you achieve this?  

The benefits of agility

Let’s start with a brief discussion about the benefits of agility. Being agile, and capable of moving quickly, helps you in several ways:  

  • Responding to new market conditions or competitors. Every business has to deal with changing competitive and market conditions. Even if your industry isn’t yet saturated with competition, it’s only a matter of time before competent new competitors emerge to threaten you. If you’re agile, you’ll be able to adjust the business and make new decisions and changes to accommodate these new variables.  

  • Solving and responding to problems. No business is perfect. Eventually, you’ll run into issues like delayed shipments, botched orders and internal disruptions that prevent you from serving your customers. If your business is agile, you’ll be able to recognize these problems proactively (and hopefully take care of them before they do any damage).  

  • Launching new products and services. Agility is also about innovation. If your business is willing to learn, adapt and grow, you’ll find it easier to create and launch new products and services. Depending on your position and your goals, this could be a valuable opportunity to outmaneuver your top competitors.  

  • Minimizing time spent internally. With agile business practices, you can also minimize the amount of time and effort your staff members spend on internal operations. You can recognize inefficiencies and change your systems to eliminate them.  

Related: Learning to Adapt Is the Key to Success

High points for business agility 

For a business to be agile, it needs to accomplish the following:  

  • Robust data streams. Agility won’t help you unless your decisions and actions are based on objective data. Accordingly, your first goal should be establishing robust, reliable streams of data for every aspect of your business. You should consistently measure your performance in every department, and across the entire business; analyzing the data should help you figure out which actions to take next.  

  • Fast decision making. Agile businesses are capable of making fast decisions. If a problem arises, a quick decision can mitigate its impact. If a competitor emerges, the business can transition in a matter of weeks, instead of months or years. This often means resisting the development of slow, bureaucratic systems in favor of ones that support decisiveness.  

  • Flexible systems. Flexibility is crucial for agility. If your tech infrastructure and operational workflows can’t accommodate rapid-fire changes or expansion, they’re not going to serve you in pursuit of greater agility.  

  • Innovation. We also need some kind of engine for innovation. For agility to be effective, it needs to foster and support novel ideas, including ideas for new products and services.  

How to make your business more agile

So what actionable steps can you take to make your business more agile?  

  • Encourage entrepreneurial thinking and autonomy. First, empower every employee in your organization to think like an entrepreneur. Encourage them to solve their own problems and allow them to make their own decisions whenever possible. The more autonomy your employees have, the faster they’ll make decisions (and the more agile your business will become).  

  • Foster clusters of small teams. Big, hierarchical organizations have some advantages, but they’re inherently unagile. Instead, it’s better to work closely together in small teams. Try to avoid becoming overly bureaucratized.  

  • Avoid becoming too accustomed to anything. Don’t get too attached to anything in your business, including people, software, workflows and even the company culture. You need to remain flexible and willing to incorporate new ideas.  

  • Cut whatever isn’t working. Whether you’re trying to find a new lead generation strategy or perfect your approach to advertising, you need to be willing to cut whatever isn’t working. If it doesn’t provide an objective benefit to your organization, get rid of the dead weight.  

  • Focus on sprints, instead of marathons. Don’t plan out your major projects too far in advance. Improve your organization and work on projects in short sprints, rather than marathons. It will keep you nimble and prevent wasted effort.  

  • Check in regularly. You should have reliable metrics to inform you of your progress and check in with them regularly. While you’re at it, ask for feedback from your employees and ask how they think the organization could be made even more agile in the future.  

Related: The One Thing You Need to Keep Your Business Relevant

Any business can become agile. That includes the hulking bureaucracies that suffer most from the lack of flexibility and agility. However, to do this, you’ll need to make agility a major priority in your business and continue making adjustments until you achieve it.  

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