For a long time, we were told that the manager’s role had 4 parts: Plan, Lead, Organize and Control. However, since I did the MBA a lot has changed. The need for speed and agility means that the time available for planning and organization has fallen dramatically. The need to act fast in response to market opportunities and threats, puts the emphasis on execution.
Planning, never the most glamorous of management activities, has fallen out of fashion in this ‘just do it’ age. But while the pendulum has swung in the direction of execution, plans and planning still have a crucial role to play in ensuring success. We call it ‘project rigor’ and while it may not be popular it is essential.
There is a price to be paid for a deficit of planning or rigor, with the following performance losses being all too common:
It is time to fall back in love with the rigor of planning.
‘Agility without Chaos’ – that was one of the top-selling management books of recent years2. It’s popularity signalled the growing spread of agile from its software development origins to the executive suite.
The book’s clever title made agile appealing to the traditionally conservative domain of management, even within bureaucratic organizations. It tackled head on the number one concern or misconception regarding agility – that it represents the abandonment of essential management processes and controls, such as plans, approvals, reporting and even hierarchy. In short, that it means chaos – an organizational ‘free for all’.
The book delivered a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ message:
The message that you can apply agile here and traditional methods there is certainly an appealing one. But, we go even further than this to suggest that it is not an either or choice of agile or rigorous and rigid, but a mix of the two that is necessary.
Rather than seeing agile and rigid as opposites, we see them as a winning combination. Like salt and vinegar or sweet and sour they go well together. You need both, although the exact mix will vary from situation to situation, depending on the level of complexity, innovation and so on. The question is:
Sometimes the ‘right mix’ could be three parts rigor to one part agile, but both are required. Even the most agile project or work stream requires planning for example. Maybe not a traditional plan, but a planning nonetheless5
One of the key messages is don’t just do it, plan do and review it!
Getting the balance right isn’t easy. Organizational processes, structures and strategies may be slow to change but even slower are organizational attitudes and mindsets. This is important because agility is arguably first and foremost about mindset6.
Balance agility and rigor means balancing bureaucracy and innovation, town down with bottom up, experimentation and playing it safe, perfectionism with getting it done and learning fast. But then again, you don’t need to get it right from the outset. In agile fashion, you can plan, do and review until you get the balance right.
In a truly agile enterprise, bureaucracy and innovation become partners. They create a system where both elements improve and where people in each camp collaborate to generate superior results.
Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, Steve Berez7