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Introduction to business agility
Introduction to business agility

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1 Business agility patterns

Sooner Safer Happier is a textbook based on decades of practical experience of improving ways of working in hundreds of organisations. Learnings are structured into eight ‘patterns’ and ‘antipatterns’ for business agility.

A pattern is a response to a situation that, more often than not, is effective and improves desired outcomes. Of course, this all comes with ups and downs, back and forth; it’s all about the people. A pattern can help to create a tailwind for change.

The antipattern is to deploy a capital ‘A’, capital ‘T’ Agile Transformation across your organisation, with fixed scope/budget/plan, that is, to apply old ways of thinking to new ways of working, which is unlikely to generate the desired benefits.

Better Value Sooner Safer Happier (BVSSH) is an outcome-orientated approach to continuously improving ways of working. It is a model for improving outcomes as organisations pivot to the nature of work in the Age of Digital. Instead of focusing on a particular framework, the focus needs to be on achieving a positive trend on desired outcomes, using Agile, Lean, DevOps, systems thinking, design thinking, theory of constraints and so on as figurative tools in the toolbox, suited to your context. Every organisation is unique and is a complex adaptive system; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Table 1 summarises the types of organisational problem these patterns can assist with. (Italic text in the third column refers to topics discussed in the Sooner Safer Happier textbook that are not covered in this course.)

Organisational problem Desired outcome Recommended BVSSH pattern(s)

‘We’re too expensive and inefficient. It’s too hard to get anything done, and organisational inertia is holding us back. The cost of change is high and it takes ages. We have to be more efficient!’

I want more efficient delivery of value

Pattern 1: Focus on the outcomes

Pattern 5: Build the right thing

Intelligent Flow

Pattern 7: Continuous attention to technical excellence

‘We need to get better at benefits management. We don’t really know what value our change investments are adding; it’s just opinion. We have to get smarter at articulating, measuring and prioritising highest value!’

I want to optimise for highest value

Pattern 1: Focus on the outcomes

Pattern 5: Build the right thing

Intelligent Flow

Create a Learning Ecosystem

‘Things take too long. If we don’t change, we will not exist. We are not keeping up with the competition. Doing nothing means we are going backward quickly. We have to accelerate.’

I want to decrease time to value

Pattern 5: Build the right thing

Intelligent Flow

Pattern 6: Build the thing right

Intelligent Control

Pattern 7: Continuous attention to technical excellence

‘When our delivery teams hit the risk and control gates, it doesn’t matter whether they are agile or not: they all slow to the same speed. It can feel like we have governance gridlock, yet we are highly regulated and must manage risk and maintain regulatory trust.’

I want to have both speed and control

Pattern 4: Leadership will make it or break it

Pattern 5: Build the right thing

Intelligent Flow

Pattern 6: Build the thing right

Intelligent Control

‘Our best people keep leaving. The talent market is so competitive. Our staff turnover is really wasteful. We lose knowledge and reputation. We have to get better at attracting and retaining the best talent.’

I want a more engaged workforce

Pattern 1: Focus on the outcomes

Pattern 3: Invite over inflict

Optimisation over One Way

Create a Learning Ecosystem

‘We waste a lot of time talking about it. We have some pockets of improvement, but there is no shared understanding. Everyone has such entrenched beliefs. The arguments can get heated. Our energy needs to be focused on making real improvement.’

I want to know why ways of working matter

A Sense of Urgency

Pattern 1: Focus on the outcomes

Pattern 4: Leadership will make it or break it

‘We have talked about transformation for a long time and made a start. We’re making some progress in IT, but the wider organisation is not yet feeling the benefit. As a leadership team we want to improve outcomes, and we want lasting change.’

I want to nurture cultural change

Pattern 2: Achieve big through small

Pattern 3: Invite over inflict

Optimisation over One Way

Pattern 4: Leadership will make it or break it

‘For our organisation to survive and thrive, we know we have to adapt quickly. The scale of change is daunting, and we are not sure where to begin making these changes.’

I want to know where to (re)start

A Sense of Urgency

Pattern 1: Focus on the outcomes

The Best Time to Plant a Tree Is Twenty Years Ago; The Second Best Time Is Today

‘Our investment funding is tied to detailed upfront business cases and annual project cycles. It’s hard to understand what a different funding model might look like in new ways of working.’

I want to know how to fund agility

Pattern 1: Focus on the outcomes

Pattern 5: Build the right thing

Intelligent Flow

Pattern 4: Leadership will make it or break it