FREQUENTLY some buzzwords get trapped in organisations and they become trend-setters for a season before making its escape, either due to over-use or they may have been eclipsed by new ones setting the tone for businesses and management styles.
Recently, the word Agile has caught the attention of corporate organisations.
As companies try to adjust to remote work and new realities and norms due to the coronavirus pandemic, adopting an Agile mindset may be more valuable than ever before. With shrinking business opportunities and profits thinning on an unprecedented scale, the severity of Covid-19’s impact is frightening.
Out of curiosity, I researched the catchword Agile in greater depth and was surprised that it has been in use from as far back as 2001.
However, there seems to be lack of understanding on the value and benefit Agile can offer, especially since it was parachuted from out of nowhere.
From addressing internal dysfunction to helping overcome competitive challenges, to coping with the world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, embracing Agility is said to give business a new lease and edge.
Ultimately, it is geared towards transforming the way we work for optimised output.
For the unversed, until recently, Agile was seen as a set of management practices relevant to software development.
That’s because Agile’s initial advocates were software developers.
Fifteen years later in 2016, Agile was spreading rapidly to all parts and all types of organisations.
In understanding Agile, we need to know that managing businesses has traditionally been a challenging undertaking with high expectations, limited resources and low success rates.
The flaws and weaknesses are innumerable. In this setting, Agile methodologies are growing quickly as an alternative to traditional approaches.
Agile management advocates a style of management that focuses on early delivery of business value, continuous improvement of the processes, scope flexibility, client/ customer needs and team input.
Effectively, Agile business transformation is a modification to the way business reacts to the frequently changing needs and demands, changes in technologies, risks, business growth and other internal and external factors that may or may not be predictable.
As in everything else, transformation requires change in mindset and behaviours where processes and layers in an organisation may be considered wasteful. In this context, the term Lean is often inextricably paired for optimisation in an organisation.
If Agile can work for businesses and corporates, can it be adopted in the government administration for optimised delivery of our public service?
As we have seen, Agile is more than just a way of developing software, at its core, Agile is about creating high performers with high value output.
It is no secret that the high-performing politicians often get disappointed with the arduous journey policies take to be implemented, often diverging far too much from the expectations of the rakyat.
On the other hand, we also have the rakyat who have to make do with mediocre or lesser quality of services from the government machinery.
On how many occasions have we been turned away from frontline services such as immigration due to system failure? Then we hear of projects being delayed with outrageous cost overruns, primarily due to too much emphasis on process over outcomes. The delay, reportedly by four years, in completing an affordable housing project in Penang is a case in point.
Incidentally, we have the Auditor-General’s Report which makes public cases of mismanagement selectively but we are not privy to how these irregularities are set right and if there are preventive measures put in place.
In this connection, often, talented and ambitious civil servants get mislaid by bureaucratic silos which have resulted in a massive gap between delivery and expectations. The government needs to work towards transforming the operating model and Agile could be the key.
And doing away with special taskforce and committee would be wise as in the end such ad-hoc convergences yield nothing but hot air. I am curious what the Blue Ocean Strategy that the government adopted achieved and if there was a yardstick to such failed and success stories.
In sum, the potential benefits to all stakeholders are considerable, but implementing Agile can be chilling because it means changing, shifting and completely overhauling overwrought people and the processes.
There are sure dividends from Agile management style, whether it is for the government organisation or corporates but there has to be clear guidance and leadership on the purpose and strategy.
It must be remembered that parsimonious behaviours will not support this cause, nothing comes free and when it does it can’t be of much value. Perhaps the government management experts can explore Agile in greater detail to be adopted in current times of distress.