Lean and fragile vs mean and agile

I graduated from Warwick Business School in 2006 where part of my dissertation included research on organizational agility.

In conjunction with my dissertation I was awarded a grant by Företagsekonomiska Institutet (FEI) that funded my research, part of which included a stay in Malaysia where I met with professor Mohamed Zain, a researcher who had a few years earlier developed a research instrument for the assessment of to what extent employees find the IT infrastructure of their organizations to improve agility. My study consisted of both a sampling of Malaysian firms (corresponding to the firms researched by professor Zain a few years earlier) and a subsequent larger sampling of European organizations.

The research findings ended up in an article titled “Industry patterns of agility: a study of the role of Information Systems and Information Technology as an antecedent of strategic agility within European organisations” in the International Journal of Agile Systems and Management (Int. J. Agile Systems and Management, Vol. 2, No. 4, 2007).

Back in Sweden I was invited to present the area of organizational agility at a board management organization (Styrelseakademin) meeting where I was asked to deliver a simplified version of the subject. After a few iterations with the meeting coordinator I ended up with a popular version, where I particularly recall the dichotomy of “lean and fragile versus mean and agile”, referring to the fragility of organizations that have been slimmed down extensively to yield low operational costs. Such organizations might perform well under predictable and stable conditions but tend to underperform or even fail in the presence of increasing environmental turbulence, where well-managed redundancy tends to contribute to higher organizational robustness.

I enclose the original slides I presented at Styrelseakademin along with a subsequent summary of the MBA research findings (including an invite to prospective organizations to undertake an agility assessment) and welcomes feedback from anyone interested in the subject.


Strategic agility – organizational capability to cope with turbulent environments v042


The ambidextrous development organization

The main question for a mature IT organization is not a choice between a structured development process such as Rational Unified Process or a lightweight development process such as agile but how to accommodate multiple development cultures, each with one’s specific development process, under the same roof. I refer to this as an ambidextrous IT organization.

An example of an organization that badly needs to be ambidextrous is the IT department of a major bank. Such a department needs to accommodate at least four development cultures: the mainframe culture – heavily dependent on heroes that built systems that have been operational for decades; the RUP culture – structured development by process workers, producing artifacts in accordance with given activities, tasks, and steps; the web culture – breaking away from the formalism of RUP, web development wizards develop web solutions in an agile manner, with a high degree of user-involvement; the app developers, with even higher demands for agility and short development windows.

For a bank in the above situation, rather than being a choice between two alternatives it is the challenge to accommodate multiple developer cultures within the same organization and to make these cultures co-exist with minimum friction and maximum synergies. This is the challenge of making the organization ambidextrous.