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“Agility vs. Stability – the “and” and “or” problem” by Mike Guay

By Deborah Wilson | August 06, 2019 | 0 Comments


Digital disruption is manifesting itself everywhere. It is almost becoming a cliché. Cloud computing and digital development capabilities create low barriers to entry across industries. Established firms are fighting off threats from startups and insurgent competitors. And it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Spotify and Netflix – started agile and have learned to scale agile. Other enterprises like Amazon, some financial services companies and others are making the transition from traditional hierarchies to more agile enterprises. For many executives and boards, the prospect of a fast moving agile (and profitable) organization is appealing but realizing that vision can be difficult.

Part of the problem lies in two small words: “and” and “or”.  Many organizations believe that to be “agile” they must be agile everywhere. This is a false assumption – that being agile means you cannot be stable. The stability and scale inherent in fixed organizational structures and processes provide a necessary foundation for agile capabilities. The trick is finding the right balance.

To resolve this puzzle, companies must design structures, governance arrangements, and processes with a relatively unchanging set of core elements—a fixed backbone. At the same time, they must also create looser, more dynamic elements that can be adapted quickly to new challenges and opportunities. This can be difficult.


  • Identifying where to start and how fast to go. Some of this may be imposed from external sources like competitors or emerging trends
  • Determining which functions or processes are best early candidates for agile, and which are not
  • Slow moving bureaucracies and fossilized thinking which interfere with risk taking and progress


  • Don’t think you can do or plan everything at once. Bite off smaller pieces, especially while you’re learning what agile means for your organization
  • Executives and leaders need to adopt agile methods and thinking themselves – create an environment and taxonomy of opportunities to help set priorities and next steps
  • React gracefully to uncertainty. Accept mistakes, but be sure improvements result from the learning experience
  • Support multidisciplinary teams to accelerate the exchange of ideas

As organizations shift to agile development for many technology projects, traditional budgeting and governance processes must change to handle the more exploratory and faster cadence of delivery.

Whether you like it or not, you must learn to balance stability against agility and determine where you should start in your organization. Those that learn to do this will improve faster and adopt advanced capabilities more effectively than those that do not.

This is not easy. Like any major change, you will get better at it the more you do. But you need to start. Just be smart about it.

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