Balancing Agility with Process is Really Hard!

Most of my professional experience has been in small, fast-paced organizations. I had one fairly short stint in a larger public company. During all these experiences, I’ve seen the constant struggle between agility and process. There are numerous studies that prove that companies need to react very quickly in today’s market in order to be competitive. Unfortunately, growth companies tend to pursue agility with pure disregard for process. McKinsey has done a few studies on this, here and here, that speak to the importance of agility but argue that the only way to achieve true agility is to have a strong backbone of structure and governance.

In my experience, the balance between agility and process (AKA structure) is very difficult to attain. When you are a company of 1 or 2, you do what works best for you. Hopefully there is some basic process around prioritization and execution, otherwise there might be a real struggle for viability. As you add additional resources it becomes more important to add some process. Resources need to understand the organization purpose (mission, vision, key performance indicators, etc) or everyone will be doing something different, making the whole very unstable.

Strong sales & organization leaders can overcome this, but they often do it at the expense of their own sanity. If a core group of people exert all their energy in developing sales and onboarding customers, they can compensate for the resources that are adding limited value. It’s at this point in the growth model where organizations struggle. It becomes apparent that some resources are severely underutilized while others are severely over-utilized. The focus of the conversation swings between the expense of training the under utilized resources or releasing the under utilized resources from the organization. In both these cases, the root cause has more to do with the process of onboarding resources. Does the organization invest the time to train the resources they have already or spend the time to find & train new resources? That depends on the resources and how they align to the organization. Some resources will be redeemable, while others are not.

Alternatively, there are many organizations that are so process oriented that they lose sight of agility. The focus becomes on making sure the process is followed, and the appropriate approvals are obtained. This is done at the expense of moving quickly.

Scale comes with being able to consistently deliver your product offering to your customers and add value in your area of expertise. If you have not designed a process around delivery or fully understand your product offering from your customer’s perspective (specifically how they derive value from your offering), you are likely to spend a significant portion of your time in fire fighting mode. Consequently, spending all your time fire fighting results in less time spent helping customers with the value initiatives.

I believe that there should be a balance between agility and process. Define a core set of processes that are critical to your product offering, set the groundwork for resources about why the organization exists (back to mission, vision & goals), but give them the space to make decisions and pivot as required.



Wisdom learned from the NOVA Ice Dogs Tier 2 U-16 Girls Team

My 17 year old daughter competed at USA Hockey Tier 2 Nationals last weekend. This was the culmination of many years of hard work for the girls and the coaches. This was the third year that her team declared “national bound”, meaning they would compete for for the right to represent the Southeast division at the National competition. Going into this tournament, our team was ranked 31st in the country, and were scheduled to play the 1st and 2nd ranked teams. Needless to say there was quite a bit of excitement and nerves surrounding the competition. I think we all have a lot to learn about handling ourselves based on this experience.

Rank doesn’t mean much

As I mentioned, the Northern VA (NOVA) Ice Dogs were ranked 31st in the country going into the tournament. Throughout the entire season, the team has been playing teams up and down the east coast. These girls definitely played up, or down, to the level of their competition. We saw them be extremely competitive to teams in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey but then lose to teams they should have beaten locally. This tournament was no different. The girls lost their first game to the 2nd ranked team 0-6, won their second game  and then lost to the 1st ranked team by only 2 points (0-2). Going into this last game, the girls were nervous. It was an evening game so they had all day to dwell on it, but played their hearts out. They had several scoring chances and played solid defense. The girls left that game knowing they deserved to be at Nationals.

I think we’ve all had experiences where we weren’t the first choice. We may know this to be true, or worse, just be worrying that it’s the truth. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter where you ranked in the process, you got it. You earned it. Stop dwelling and move on to get the job done.

Keep your head held high

The team worked very hard to get to Nationals, playing more than 60 games in regular season. This is highly unusual for National bound teams, as they tend to be more select tournament-only players, playing on other teams during regular season. Our girls did it. They made it to Nationals, but lost. The girls walked out of the locker room after their last game with their heads held high. As they should!

We all have had experiences where we’ve done everything we can but it doesn’t work out. That’s really ok. Walk away from that experience with your head held high, knowing there was nothing more for you to do.

Tenacity & Determination

During the regular season playoffs, and then again during the Southeast division playoffs, the NOVA Ice Dogs had multiple games where the opposing team took the lead about half way through. In each of these games the NOVA Ice Dogs came back to win. They could have walked away, demoralized and out of the game. They didn’t. They fought back and succeeded.

The obvious moral to the story is to regroup and refocus when things aren’t going your way.