4 tips to help you create an agile business

Now more than ever, the world recognises the importance of being agile and adaptable. The old ways no longer cut it in business. Those that operate in rigid structures will fail to respond to a rapidly changing environment and a volatile marketplace. To work smarter, you need to adopt an agile approach to business management.

What is agile methodology?

The agile methodology was invented in software development, but this iterative approach can improve all types of project management, helping your teams deliver value to your clients quicker and more efficiently. Australian software developer and agile coach Atlassian explains that the work of an agile team is delivered in small, consumable increments – instead of betting everything on a ‘big bang’ launch – while continuously evaluating plans, requirements and results, so teams can naturally respond to change quickly. 

It’s about prioritising functions, using a bottom-up method, and testing these functions throughout the development process. This is what makes agile so well suited for complex projects with clear end goals.

The world is entering a new age: the age of agile, in which organisations are connecting everyone and everything, everywhere. Companies that cannot cope with the speed of a digital society are dying. Those that thrive are those able to adopt new ways of communicating and finding their customers.

Here are 4 tips to consider if you want to transform your business into a smart, agile organisation

1. Put your customers at the centre

In 1954, the father of management thinking, Peter Drucker, famously said that a business has only one valid purpose: to create a customer. A growing number of companies live by this dictum, and because a business is about creating customers, it has 2 basic functions: marketing and innovation. When delighting your customers through continuous innovation becomes the bottom line, making money is the result, not the goal, of your firm’s activities.

According to Forbes, when organisations operate this way, they make more money than companies that focus directly on making money – and that holds true for the 5 largest and fastest-growing firms on the planet: Amazon, Apple, Meta, Google and Microsoft. It requires a shift from a focus on things (money, products and outputs) to a focus on people (human outcomes, experiences and impact).

The Agile Business Consortium, an independent professional body dedicated to advancing business agility, advises that the key to business agility is the ‘inspirational leadership of collaboratively autonomous teams, committed to delighting their customers’.


An agile transformation approach is, by definition, bottom-up and organic


This might not be about simply giving customers what they want, but rather what is in the customer’s best interests. People, and not processes, are at the heart of agile, the body says, ‘because it’s people, not processes, that innovate – and people that keep a business competitive’.

2. Use agile management as a means, not an end

Digital innovator McKinsey states that the intended outcome of agile management is ‘the ability of an organisation to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment’ and ‘the ability to quickly reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities’.

Its goal is to enable an organisation to generate instant, frictionless, incremental, risk-free value at scale. But progress towards business agility correlates favourably with the level of leadership. A survey by the Business Agility Institute shows that the higher the level of leadership, the greater the progress towards business agility.

3. Rethink your hierarchies

It starts at the top. As management, you need to start by considering how your organisation’s leadership relates to the world of agile and determine what the challenges are. You also need to take stock of the risks and benefits of launching an agile transformation.

However, if you set about forcing agile onto your teams, this top-down approach will fail, because change needs to grow organically from within, and it needs to be inclusive – from HR through to Finance. An agile transformation isn’t a project or a new process. It is a journey to a fundamental change in thinking from the top-down hierarchical approach that was once typical of 20th century organisations.

4. Rally the troops

Once management has decided to embark on an agile journey, you will need to build a team to lead the way. Ideally, this should be led by the C-suite, because it will affect everything within and outside your organisation. But if your agile leadership team includes top management only, it risks lacking credibility and will appear to be top-down. An agile transformation approach is, by definition, bottom-up and organic. 

Your team needs to act as a unit of agile advocates who believe in their cause, want to make it happen and are prepared to fight for the idea. To survive, let alone thrive, your firm must learn to embrace the new business reality: you are entering the age of agile. And if you want to flourish, you need to rethink how to reshape your organisation to compete in a tough climate.

Learn more about Nedbank's products and services that can help you transform your business to more agile ways of working.