Business Agility. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is NOT ‘ROCKET SCIENCE’

Ok.  We’ve been hearing it for a while.

Now that Dean Leffingwell has officially been promoting Business Agility as a key tenet of SAFe’s latest release, SAFe 5.0, people are starting to ask more and more ‘what is this buzz all about’? As we know, Dean is the visionary and founder of the very rapidly growing ‘SAFe’-Way’ of building software and systems, [= ‘Scaled Agile Framework’ or ‘SAFe’]

[For those of you who think you are ‘Agile’ and/or feel that you are helping transform your customers to be more ‘nimble’ and ‘market reactive’, but haven’t heard of Dean- you REALLY have been living under a ROCK.  Get OUT and take a GEMBA walk!]. 

Well, the ‘buzz’ is really simple when you peel back the first few layers of the onion.  Heck, my next door neighbor’s 11-year old was able to answer my question in about 10 seconds.  

‘Hey Delaney, when you hear these words, ‘BUSINESS AGILITY’, do you know what they mean?’

[ANSWER] ‘Mr. Bill [she calls me Mr. Bill and that is fine with me], I think it means that a business can move back and forth, quickly, like I can, when I dance.’

[ME- now really intrigued]. ‘’Delaney, that is a good answer!  By ‘move back and forth’, what do you mean by this?’’

[DELANEY]. ‘’When I dance, I move back and forth quickly and easily, as I see my teacher move her hands and when I hear the music. I make my dance moves as I’ve learned them. In some parts of the music, when she moves her hands this way, and the musical sounds are a certain kind, my dance steps are fast.  In other parts of the music, when she moves her hands in other ways, my dance steps are slower and move in different directions. When I do this, my teacher says that my dancing is Agile.’


[ME]. ‘’Excellent answer Delaney!  So, in other words, your dance steps change, as you hear different sounds and you see different hand signals from your teacher. Is this right? In other words, you base what moves that you make, on what you are SEEING and HEARING, around you. Is this right?  Do you think that a business, like your mom’s restaurant, can be Agile, like that?’’

[DELANEY].  “Yes Mr. Bill.  My mom changes her menu all the time. When her customers say that they like this kind of food, she makes more meals using those kinds of food. When they tell her that they don’t like other kinds of food, she listens and reacts by taking those meals off of her menu. 

She’s soooo SMART. Maybe that is why her restaurant is always so crowded!  

She is always telling me that she has to be ‘agile’, like my dancing, in her restaurant. 

Or else her customers will go to eat in other places.’’


If an 11-year old pre-teen can get it, then why can’t more businesses? 

After all, isn’t being ‘agile’ simply a process of choice?  By ‘choosing’ to LISTEN when the market says ‘this’.  SEEING signs that the market puts ‘out there’, but then ACTING (REACTING) based upon what these signs are telling the business to do.

Listening. Seeing. Two things that we as people, not just business owners and leaders, do each and every day, as a part of our everyday ways of living.  But the third action, ACTING/REACTING, is something that many businesses fail to do. 

So why is this so often the case? If ‘businesses’ can ‘hear’ and ‘see’ like the rest of us, why can’t they simply ‘choose’ to ACT/REACT to what the market is showing and telling them, to do? Is this because they fail to plan for change? After all, if they fail to plan, don’t they so often PLAN to FAIL?

We are not talking about advanced calculus here folks. Isn’t some aspects of business agility almost always includes the following success patterns, repeated over and over:

  • ACTIVELY LISTENING to the market and producing software and solutions that solve business problems.
  • PRIORITIZING those solutions based on perceived (and competitive) customer demand.
  • POSITIONING, DELIVERING and SUPPORTING those prioritized solutions with a ferocious focus on exceeding customer satisfaction expectations
  • ACTIVELY LISTENING again as they RECEIVE FEEDBACK from customers and competitors alike as to what is working and what is not.   
  • LEARNING from other organization’s SUCCESSES, as well as their mistakes.
  • ACTING/REACTING ‘quickly’ to this feedback to adjust, create, position, sell and deliver.

Sure, doing this takes focus, dedication and persistence. And it takes… no. It REQUIRES senior leadership to have the mindset that “being Agile’’ is not an on/off switch. Rather, it is a way of thinking and doing, and not a destination. Being ‘agile’ requires senior leadership to plan their agile work, work their agile plan, and to have the guts to ‘not’ just focus on the current month or quarter performance and veer off course if the market is telling them to stay on it. 

Being ‘’Agile’’ also requires the discipline that comes with realizing, and accepting the ‘fact’ that a ‘not invented here’ attitude is akin to Pre-Cambrian extinction behavior. That there are ideas, processes and technologies out there that others have created that can be, should be, leveraged- if they will help the business move more rapidly. Being ‘Agile’ as it pertains to being ‘SAFe’ means being open to using tools that can help accelerate your ability to collaborate and deliver more business value. 

Being “Agile” also requires senior leadership to “put their [Performance Metrics- based] Money where their Mouths are, and drive the behaviors from their people that they know will produce the business agility – based adjustments that they are required. After all, Metrics Drive Performance. So if a business wants/needs to be AGILE, people have to perceive- and feel- that their leadership is behind them doing so and being so.

They also have to feel that Senior Leadership is constantly learning.  Learning not just from competitors as to what is not working, but what ‘is’ working. One of my favorite quotes from Dean Leffingwell is simple one. Dean said,

“It’s said that a wise person learns from his mistakes. A wiser one learns from others’ mistakes. But the wisest person of all learns from others’ successes.”

In Summary, being ‘agile in business’ or demonstrating perceptions (after all, isn’t Perception [often] Reality?) of Business Agility isn’t rocket science. Rather it’s a functioning of active listening, being attentive to what the pundits, social media and other forms of visuals are saying about market trends, and then, having the guts and tenacity to ACT and REACT to them quickly.

In doing so, businesses will find themselves in positions to ‘be’ that Change Agent that they claim so verbosely to be in their marketing materials, and will reap those rewards that only nimble, flexible, ‘agile’ businesses can realize.

Enhanced numbers of SALES.





And the ability to ‘walk the walk’ vs just talk about it.

After all, if an 11-year old dancer can be ‘agile’ in her ‘business’, why can’t YOUR business???

Author: Bill Hocking, Radus Software

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