In today’s environment, companies need to manage frequent changes in customer needs and the business impacts those shifting needs create. Managers of initiatives encounter frequent changes in requirements, timelines, budgets, and key staff as organizations cope with this change. The problem is that well-established work and project management routines are not especially well suited for the reality of the scope and frequency of change today.
As a result, executive teams and managers are changing the way we bring work and people together to achieve greater agility and resilience. A review of two disciplines—planning and cross-team alignment—illustrates how.
Making the planning process more agile
Planning is one place where new approaches are being developed. In one company, a senior manager was brought in to revive a sluggish business that was part of a highly dynamic industry. As she entered the situation, the company was using business plans written for a yearlong timeline. These documents were highly detailed but did not allow for rapid change.
The manager implemented a planning process in which plans were recorded on a single piece of paper, against which regular updates were completed. Among the pieces of information recorded in the new plans, a couple were key:
- What customer problem does the product solve?
- How have the customer’s needs changed?
- How do we address this change?
In the quarterly review process, these questions were asked, and if the answers changed, adjustments were made. This new agile planning process is contributing to an improvement in product innovation, new customers, and increases in revenue.
Resolving cross-team issues to build resilience and agility
A second example is cross-boundary alignment. More than a few executives have expressed the following frustration: “My organization is frozen in the middle.”
Many companies are achieving increased agility and resilience by making the resolution of cross-team boundary hand-off issues a top priority in a manager’s work. In interviews, many executives in healthcare and high-technology companies say that resolving hand-off problems is a mission-critical management activity for achieving greater customer focus.
In a healthcare organization and a software firm, for example, key initiative updates are conducted with key teams—the manager and direct reports—to reveal hand-off issues within the organization and to address them.
Research I conducted at AchieveForum with middle and senior managers, across a wide cross-section of industries, supports these practices. As an example, two practices were found to differentiate high-performing organizations from the rest:
- Senior and middle managers work together to anticipate changes to customer needs/requirements and outline possibilities for adapting to them
- Managers pull people together across organizational boundaries to solve coordination problems that are impacting customers
These practices help people and teams act with the agility and respond with the resilience needed to achieve success in dynamic environments.
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