Agility is a big issue in almost every company and I often have conversations with decision-makers or students who are looking for a topic around agility for their final theses. In the numerous conversations I noticed one thing: when it comes to agility, it really always comes down to the point of view. I distinguish between groups and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises – up to 249 employees and 50 million turnover).

For a long time I thought about exactly how the differences could be and did not come up with a meaningful answer myself. Piercy, N., & Rich, N. (2015) examined the relationship between lean operations and sustainable operations in 5 case studies. I noticed that although the study did not directly examine my question, it showed me two exciting goals of agility:

  • Introducing agility with the goal of increasing speed and flexibility in a rigid organization (reducing too much stability)
  • Introducing agility with the goal of maintaining speed and flexibility and building stability in a chaotic organization (reducing chaos and building stability)

Stability-first: Corporations and agility

Corporations are often regarded as very stable and rigid constructs. This is usually due to the high number of employees as well as the many stakeholders in the company. Through a restructuring, companies like BMW or Adidas try to get the structure you define as rigid and slow a little more flexible and faster with the help of agile teams. The companies also characterize themselves through special strategy departments, high budgets, external consultations and dedicated implementation processes of agility.

As a result, corporations are often optimized for stability, controllability and control, which is to be reduced by the introduction of agile methods. In the case of the introduction of agility in corporations, therefore, the constructive reduction of stability towards a little more freedom applies. The aim is to increase flexibility and speed.

Reading tip: Scrum in corporations

Lean-First: SMEs and agility

I have experienced things differently with SMEs. These often differ due to a small process landscape, short decision-making paths and a hands-on mentality in the leadership. So there are no bodies, but it is “just done”. In SMEs, there are usually hardly any budgets, consultations or strategy departments. Instead, this is usually done by the employees in addition to the day-to-day business.

SMEs are often very small (less than 10 MA) when they are set up and have grown in the long term (100 or more MA). During this time, hardly any processes were introduced and if so very late. Especially from 100 employees, initial processes and hierarchies (or an agile organizational form) are urgently needed. So it is usually even a little more chaotic in SMEs than in corporations.

An example of successful agility is noris network, which uses DevOps methods to build stability in the organization due to high growth, but also to maintain flexibility. Another example is Paessler, who use scrum and agile mindsets to achieve similar goals, as well as Prolead Technologies, which have also created an internal culture using scrum.

SMEs are often characterized by growth – by a few employees and with it a high agility due to the spirit of the founder. As these companies continue to grow, they want to maintain this agility by introducing agility despite growth, but not to sink into chaos.

Reading tips:

Conclusion

You notice when you read that both views are exactly the opposite. While corporations are often already very stable and want to reduce this stability a little, SMEs are more likely to try to build stability on the basis of growth. For this reason, both forms of enterprise must be examined separately. I will soon publish a technical article for agility in SMEs (available from March 2019).

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Source: Piercy, N., & Rich, N. (2015). The relationship between lean operations and sustainable operations. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 35(2), 282-315. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOPM-03-2014-0143

Image source: Pixabay.com

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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