What is an Agile Environment?

This article was co-authored by Skip Angel and Janel Lanza.


As constant change and markets push companies to adapt and deliver at an ever-increasing pace, agile remains at the heart of strategic conversations. It’s a testament to the customer-centric, engaging and ever-innovating agile environment so many companies have created in their tech areas.

What’s changing (for the better!) is the need for agile environments throughout an entire company, not just in tech. As representatives from all parts of the organization join the agile strategy table, it’s time to define what we mean by an “agile environment.”
In simplest terms, an agile environment exists when the people and the systems they are in are inclusively collaborative, customer centric, and continuously learning and improving. The resulting human system hums along with the noise of creative chaos while handling disruptions effectively and maintaining the highest regard for its most valuable asset – people.

Before you picture the unreachable – unicorns leaping in the halls and candy dishes everywhere – take a look at the five cornerstones of an agile environment. Note that the environment needing redefinition is as much the space we physically inhabit as the space created by our mindset, interactions, and behaviors. Together, through many iterations, leaders and teams practice and refine their skills across these five congruent and dynamic areas that together enable the emergence of an agile environment.

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Focused Alignment: What We Envision

Agile organizations understand the power of having everyone on the same page with sharing and living our company values, driving toward a common vision, and focusing on the same priorities toward our strategy. Leaders desire to explore what success looks like with business outcomes that are understood and can be measured, as the organization delivers incremental solutions driving towards those outcomes. Gone are the days of organizational silos and hierarchies, as there is a desire to bring the enterprise closer together using cross-departmental value streams that effectively deliver end-to-end solutions leveraging our collective capabilities.

Inclusive Collaboration: How We Interact

Agile organizations understand that we can’t bring our best selves to work if we don’t have a work environment that supports it. Leaders help serve the enterprise by enabling and supporting a strong sense of inclusiveness in the way we bring the best ideas and take chances together to be successful. Key to this is a high level of psychological safety through trust, mutual respect, and transparency. As a result, individuals and teams have the necessary autonomy to make decisions and the shared responsibility to meet commitments to customers.

Customer-Centricity: Who We Think About

Agile organizations understand that our customers – internal and external – are central to everything we do. Teams find ways to get early and frequent feedback to ensure that they are solving the right problems in the solutions they provide. Each employee starts to develop deep empathy toward customers to be able to anticipate what can be done to improve the world that the customer lives in. Leaders across the enterprise also strive to improve the overall system by removing non-valued activities and tasks to increase the time available to take ideas and turn them into quality and timely solutions. IT must do its part to invest time and money on automation through virtual development and test systems, continuous integration and delivery on demand to release value when it is needed by customers.

Growth through Learning: How We Develop Ourselves

Agile organizations understand the need to constantly be learning and investing the time and money toward their greatest asset – their people. No longer are these learning activities “on your own time”; they are built into everyday events. These organizations understand that learning comes in many forms – training, coaching, communities, pairing sessions, hackathons, and collaborative design workshops. Innovation isn’t something we long for, but instead it’s what we build into the solutions we provide by building our skills, trying new ideas through experimenting, and pushing the boundaries on what we can do if we make the necessary investment in personal and professional growth.

Resilient to Change: Our foundation for Agility

Agile organizations understand that they need to not just embrace change but also build the ability to respond and adapt quickly in a sustainable way. The enterprise has learned to have short cycles in how they discover, develop, and deliver valuable solutions. These companies are learning – iteratively and incrementally – how to build architectures, systems, solutions and people that are nimble to change while continually evolving to a better state through continuous improvement. These organizations know that, in order to survive in a world of disruption, they need to be able to anticipate change, pivot, and act faster than their competition.

It’s a lot to take in and imagine as a new reality. And, it’s difficult work. That’s why we recommend you make time to reflect on your own environment, and then start an ongoing discussion with others. And be encouraged that now is a great time for change.