“Agility should not be an end in itself” 

Ausbildung Agile Leader
September 13, 2022 | Leadership and Organizational Development, Staufen Academy

Michael Metzger and Nicolas Romfeld are consultants in the context of Lean and Agile. They spoke with Lea Buchmüller, Deputy Director of the Staufen Academy, about the connection between Lean Management and agility. One focus is on why executives should address the topic of agility. 

Why agility is so important for companies 

Not only since the world has been shaken by various crises all at once, companies have to face completely new problems and challenges: Globalization has increasingly changed markets and also increased customer demands. Society is changing rapidly and companies must adapt to this if they do not want to lose touch. “For us, agility means that a company can adapt to this and still operate effectively and successfully in this increasingly complex environment,” explains Nicolas Romfeld. 

Michael Metzger cites electromobility in the automotive industry as a concrete example: “We have many new competitors in the market environment, new framework conditions, new products are being brought to market and, last but not least, of course, the legislature, which presents companies with new challenges.” The complex situation generates numerous new requirements within a very short time. Companies that close themselves off to change and rigidly follow a pattern do not stand a chance. Agility is key. 

Are lean and agile mutually exclusive? 

Staufen AG has been well known for years for consulting and coaching in the field of Lean Management. Both Michael Metzger and Nicolas Romfeld decisively negate the question of whether agility is now replacing lean or making it superfluous. “Lean and agile are not opposites for us,” says Nicolas Romfeld. Instead, he said, lean has changed the way people think about processes, and for agile, the focus is on collaboration between terms. In this respect, the two approaches build on each other rather than being mutually exclusive. 

Especially when it comes to the continuous improvement process, companies are advised to follow both lean principles and agile approaches. Especially in departments with many repetitive tasks, such as accounting, processes can be greatly simplified through Lean Management. There are modules for this, and they work so well that they can then be digitized, thereby greatly streamlining the workload. “But we also notice that, especially in innovative environments such as research and development or project management, this agility as a building block can help us become significantly better, faster and integrate people,” explains Michael Metzger. Lean Management creates a sound foundation, while agile helps you take the next step in improvement. 


Lean Management creates a sound foundation, while agile helps you take the next step in improvement.


Lean Management creates a sound foundation, while agile helps you take the next step in improvement.

What exactly is agility all about? 

When Michael Metzger and Nicolas Romfeld advise companies on agility as coaches, the first question they often hear is regarding the method. Entrepreneurs often want to know how long it will take them to achieve the desired change. “In the first step, it is very, very important to first understand what the problem is. What is the initial situation of the company?” is how Michael Metzger describes the situation. The first thing to do is to look at the given environment and general conditions before you can respond to customers’ demands. The answers differ from company to company, for which the agile module is ideally suited. 

Fields of action that enable a holistic approach to solutions include the following

  • Goals 
  • Organization 
  • Guidance 

“We need to understand the problem we are actually trying to solve with agility,” adds Nicolas Romfeld. It should not stand alone – it is not just about the methods, but about different fields of action.

In agile companies, goals are not simply specified, but are developed collaboratively. An agile organization is able to respond quickly and flexibly to new challenges “because it re-forms and adapts around value creation for every new problem that needs to be solved.” The two coaches agree that leadership often comes up short in an agile environment. 

Agile

Therefore, managers are not superfluous 

On several occasions, people have claimed that an agile company does not actually need executives anymore. The two experts see it differently: “Especially as an organization changes, whether towards agility or just adapting to the times, when it comes to changing framework conditions, managers are very important.” They are the ones who accompany and support employees during the change. 

Later, when the company has adopted agile methods, the image of managers also changes: they no longer have to know everything and solve all problems on their own. The requirements are also too complex for that. Instead, the focus in this context is more on empowering employees to organize themselves. 

In times of change, it is the task of managers to teach employees to take on more responsibility and act more independently. Their challenge lies primarily in learning to hand over responsibility and in encouraging employees to work together more creatively in teams and become more involved. 

These are the key success factors of agility 

Making a company agile from scratch requires willingness to change from managers and employees. This requires work, but it is worth it: “Agility ensures speed, as already indicated, in order to respond more quickly to customer needs, and to meet them: reduce the lead time in development, for example, in order to reduce the amount of corresponding work,” explains Michael Metzger. Nicolas Romfeld adds: “The entire company can adapt to different market conditions and framework conditions and react more quickly because the world is changing faster than it used to.” 

For this to work, leaders need to focus more on enabling employees to evolve through volatile and complex market situations and conditions. This creates freedom and allows employees to freely develop their own creativity. This in turn benefits the entire company.

For anyone interested in this topic, Staufen AG offers Agile Leader training, in which managers learn how to successfully steer and lead their teams in the future. 

Host Portrait Lea Buchmüller

Lea Buchmüller

Head of Academy

Staufen AG

Guest Michael Metzger

Michael Metzger

Principal

STAUFEN.AG

Guest Nicolas Romfeld

Nicolas Romfeld

Project Manager

STAUFEN.AG

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