Just how critical is business agility? From this analyst’s POV, it’s the most critical element now for fast-growth and high-profit firms. As we say here at JS Group, “Fast and flexible is the new big” in the technology industry, and dare I say every industry.
Is Business Agility the Key to Winning Big?
Before we start talking about the partner impact on business agility, let’s first define the term. Just what defines a business agility focus? Business agility-focused describes a firm that, through the rapid, continuous, and methodical focus on its evolutionary adaptation and entrepreneurial innovation, can direct the bulk of its actions and the entirety of its culture towards gaining and maintaining competitive advantage.
That competitive advantage line is key. In fact, the best firms are not only ahead of competitors, but also ahead of their clients. The best firms are seeing market changes and needs before even their end-user customers see the changes. That’s the key to winning and winning big.
Your Average Technology Partner Example
Now, let’s consider a firm that has this culture of rapid innovation, continual improvement, competitive chops, and nimble response times and the impact of this culture on their engagement with their partner. I love to use examples, so let’s start today with your average technology partner. Their traditional approach to your business has been to identify issues or opportunities, propose a technology solution, quote said technology solution, and then install/provision said solution.
This process often takes months and is filled with cumbersome hoops to jump through, multiple delays in proposals and quotes, overwhelming inputs, an engagement with procurement, and a myriad of complexities before the technology is implemented. Perhaps, the scariest part of this traditional engagement, while time is flying by, jumping through the traditional hoops the industry continues to innovate and better solutions continue to launch. This then puts you in a place of having to replace or upgrade the technology again in the not-too-distant future. That kind of process just doesn’t work if your business is run as an agile enterprise.
The first step many take when this happens is to consider if you need a new partner. So, they go partner shopping. They create a new RFP or an RFQ, or they hold “getting to know you” meetings. If they are truly nimble, they may hold a partnering one-day competition or similarly edgy approach.
The Real First Step to Achieving Business Agility
While replacing your partner is the simple answer, as with most simple answers, it is usually wrong. 9 times out of 10, even if the firm switches partners, they will end up regretting it and either bring the old partner back or expend a lot of time and resources getting the new partner to function.
You see, that’s because the reason most partners are lacking agility is that you, the other partner, showed them that this was the only way to deal with companies like yours in the past.
In fact, the average technology partner is much nimbler than their average engagement with you would indicate. They are trying to fit into your old culture. So, the best real first step to work with a partner, if your agility is outpacing theirs, is to tell them what you are looking for now that your culture has shifted, and your expectations of their firm have shifted as a result.
Be clear, be concise, and state what you will demand as their partner. Then, share how your measurement of them as a partner will change as a result of this shift in value. In other words, give your existing partner a chance before you go hunting for a new one. If they can’t keep up, then fair game; it’s time to replace them. But before you ‘skate on one night’s ice’ with a new partner, let’s try to resurrect the existing partnership first.
The Journey to Resurrect Your Existing Partner
Here’s where I would start in that journey of resurrection, with a set of stated anticipations for the partnership moving forward. You can put real numbers and expectations to the list of items below, creating an effective yet nimble scorecard that, if then needed, can be used to identify new partners who can meet your needs for agility if your current partner can not do so. Here’s a short list of some of my favorites:
- Up the baud rate for responses to changes: Take your current times and cut them in half.
- Insist on agile or scrum training for all teams: Select a curriculum and help fund their participation if needed.
- Stay connected and micro-communicate consistently: Implementing tools like Slack can help here.
- Share and embrace data: Establish the right data sets and how data is responded to.
- Scrum on some projects: Establish a scrum approach and implement it for a project.
- Execute low-cost and fast-start prototypes or pilots: versus bloated big implementations.
- Measure customer happiness and delight: Together or apart, have an eye on the end-user customers.
- Implement projects in less time than previous: Start with reducing by 10%, then 20%, then 50%.
Once you have these metrics and have communicated them, make it the responsibility of the partner to share with you, on a consistent basis, how they are doing — not in an overly complex operations review manner but in an agile method. For example, simply posting a thumbs up or thumbs down daily on Slack concerning how things are progressing can be enough for an agile organization to keep its thumb on the pulse of the partnership.
Remember in all things involving the partnership, stay focused on agility and how to revive the partnership in this new business agility culture. Additionally, you may wish to implement some bonuses, forfeits, or flexible pay-out structures for the partnership that relies on the above metrics or the metrics you design being achieved. Having some ‘skin in the game’ can really inspire your partners to work harder to become the agile partner you deserve. Finally, remember things do take time even in an agile environment so keep on the process, follow your metrics, and keep an open mind about the transition.
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