What does it mean to be an agile business?


What does it mean to be an agile business?

Theresa McFarlane, PMO Practice Lead – UST Xpanxion

Because agile is more about culture and mindset changes and less about technology, agile businesses have a people-centric culture.

Theresa McFarlane

Theresa McFarlane, PMO Practice Lead – UST Xpanxion

“Change is the only constant in life. One's ability to adapt to those changes will determine their success in life” ~ Benjamin Franklin.

This quote resonates with us today more than ever. While there is always change, we live during a time of turbulent flux and uncertainty. One needs to look no further than the past few years to witness how businesses have pivoted their priorities on a dime in the face of a world health crisis. Organizations had to assess the challenges, brainstorm solutions, and adapt to the disruptions and changes they were facing from the continued fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic to survive amidst globally strained logistics, supply chain issues, workforce shortages, and economic upheaval.

The pandemic forced companies to transform their businesses and adapt to change at remarkable speed—practically overnight. Those that didn't adapt did not survive, and those that did are thriving.

Resilient businesses with organizational digital transformation plans and a solid disaster recovery plan accelerated and shifted their plans to meet the urgent needs of remote workers and contactless services. Support for health and safety and remote workers quickly became (and continue to be) the new priorities for all businesses across all industries. In turn, agility has become the latest business objective.

If we’ve learned anything from the business world since the pandemic, it's that if you don’t have organizational agility, you can’t survive. Thanks to the pandemic, business continuity and survival now hinge on how well an organization can innovate and shift during challenges, disruptions, and evolving state and federal mandates. Innovation and business transformation have never been more critical.

A McKinsey Global survey confirms this, stating that “the more transformation actions a company takes, the greater its chances for success.” Another McKinseyhttps://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-impact-of-agility-how-to-shape-your-organization-to-compete

survey found that organizations that successfully use agile methods to transform their businesses are three times more likely to be top performers when compared to those that don’t.

Forward-thinking organizations prepare for change and disruption. They count on it. These are agile organizations capable of rapidly adopting new business models, processes, methodologies, and technologies to adjust to ever-changing environments—without losing sight of their long-term business value. They innovate at high velocity. And when they fail, they fail fast. Agile organizations view failure and recovery times as indicators of success (a measure of how fast they can innovate).

Failure is in the DNA of every agile business. Microsoft is a case in point. When the world was confronting the reality of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, Microsoft flexed powerful agility muscles as it swung toward sweeping support of its Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams. The shift was not only agile; it was smart.

Microsoft Teams reached 145 million users in April 2021, and Microsoft 365 became the cloud productivity platform of choice for enterprises. However, this is not about a monolithic, deep-pockets company seizing on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to usher in the remote era. Microsoft’s history of rapid updates and release cycles tells a compelling story of an agile business that continues to push thresholds and doesn't fear failure.


The term “agile” has been buzzing around companies for years and often equates to innovation and rapid, customer-centric, iterative delivery cycles. Agile is how we build modern business applications. But lately, we hear the word dropped in regular business meetings that have nothing to do with technology. It often comes up in HR and marketing meetings, for example. The term is so popular these days that when heard, it almost always elicits the obligatory nod of approval. But what does it mean? Is it a buzzword, hype, or technology? And why is it morphing out of IT and running throughout entire organizations?


The Agile Alliance describes business agility as “the ability to create and respond to change to succeed in an uncertain and turbulent environment.” To be more specific, agility in business is a way of working. It involves a network of cross-functional teams, technologies, methodologies, cultures, and mindsets that allow organizations to react and adapt to change fast and successfully.

Because agile is more about culture and mindset changes and less about technology, agile businesses have a people-centric culture. They take a people-first strategic approach to learning and development and prioritize cultivating people and teams to act in rapid learning, high-response, fast decision environments.


The nearly 20-year-old Agile Manifesto outlines the values and principles for collaboration in software development. Its framework places teams at the vanguard of innovation to design better products and customer experiences. It can transfer to all business areas/units. As a result, the Agile Manifesto serves as the foundation for achieving business agility.

To become an agile business, organizations must embrace the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto, which means cultivating agile people and cultures, promoting agile leadership, and following agile methodologies, philosophies, and governance. In other words, to be an agile business, agile principles should weave throughout your entire organization at all levels, from your people and culture to your strategy, structure, technologies, and resources.

How agile is your business? At UST Xpanxion, we help organizations achieve resiliency and agility so they can compete and thrive in our new world of perpetual change. Contact our agile experts to learn more about business agility.