Today’s business environment is characterized by a rapidly changing technology landscape, rising customer expectations, and accelerating competition. Thus, agility, which can be described as the ability to respond quickly and effectively to environmental change, is a critical imperative for organizations today.
So far, so good. But do we really know what being agile means in practice? What qualities constitute agility?* Most practicing managers, if asked to enumerate these qualities, would be able to list a few intellectual and mental faculties such as receptiveness to change and the ability to learn continuously. But this is at best a partial list.
One key to answering this vexing question (what qualities constitute agility?) is to realize that while agility certainly is a function of mindset, it is also a function of many attributes that have little to do with mindset. To get an idea of what these other attributes may be, let us posit a first-cut, working definition of what we might call "agile capability":
"Agile capability" is the ability of an individual (or organization) that allows that individual (or organization) to transition into, and become adept in, a new discipline.
Let us pause for a minute to consider the implications of this definition. Does being "agile" mean that we expect a person adept in the discipline of software engineering to become a great bridge-builder? Of course not. Instead, agility here would probably mean an ability to continue to be an excellent software engineer even as new technology platforms, development methodologies, and tools come into vogue. Thus, agility is not an ability to transition effortlessly across massively diverse, utterly unrelated disciplines.** In other words, the notions of agility and agile capability have meaning only when delimited by the context of a specific discipline, or perhaps a few closely related disciplines.
We can thus update our definition as follows:
"Agile capability" is the ability of an individual (or organization) that allows that individual (or organization) to deliver continued high performance in their chosen discipline in the face of change or to transition into a related discipline.
This of course means that the notion of agility is inextricable from the specific, pertinent discipline; it is unrealistic, perhaps even utopian, to define a generic concept of agility that encompasses the ability to transition effortlessly across disparate disciplines.