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Improving Organisational Agility

Improving Organisational Agility through Project Portfolio Management

Torrens University Australia and Chifley Business School recently hosted a successful event in Adelaide for alumni and industry professionals on project management and allied industries.

Assistant Professor Hadjinicolaou led the event by providing key insights of an agile organisation and foundational practices of project management.

The event then involved a panel discussion about the key topics of exploring organisational agility and its alignment with portfolio management, identifying what organisational agility looks like, what is needed to achieve it and finally, identifying the steps to make a non-agile organisation agile.


The industry experienced discussion panel consisted of:

Paul McDonald – Director of Asia Pacific, Program and Project Services, at SMS Management & Technology.

Trevor Mason – Co-Founder and Director at Gyre Digital Pty Ltd.

Nicola Cowley – General Manager of Business Improvement at Experience Australia Group.

Key points discussed by the panel:

Q – How would you define Organisational agility and what makes it attractive to business (government or private)

A – (Paul McDonald) – Agility of an organisation is a rapid targeted adjustment to a strategic or operational process. It is in response to external or internal factors or both. The organisation should be at least not worst off (but being potentially better off) after implanting the change. The reason it is interesting to business especially in public sector is it brings in competitive advantage and brings in the ability to deal with change rapidly. In government, it is about sustainability where there are regular demands of doing more with less and absorbing shocks such as an election.

Q- With your work and experience in local government and councils what are the drivers of change towards organisational agility?

A – (Nicola Cowley) – It is mainly efficiency and effectiveness. Communities are more informed and competitive. Local government is competing with private sector; hence they need to be competitive and deliver things better. They want to respond to customer’s needs better without costs going up.  Hence they need to be agile to change direction quickly to manage changes but also be effective in doing so. Some do it successfully some don’t.


Q – Do you think organisation agility only works in certain industry or market segments?

A – (Trevor Mason) – No I don’t think so. It is the willingness of the organisation and the executive that drives the same. Taking examples of councils, many of them have the intent to change due to pressures from state government such as amalgamation. They however struggle with the next step of how to go about with the change.



Q – What are some of the outcomes if the organisations has intentions to change but does not or is not able to implement the change.

A – (Nicola Cowley) – I have been fortunate to work with organisations, most of them positive to change. However, I find there are organisations who initially start with the process but cannot or do not follow through with it. This can lead to issues such as loss of market share, failure of audits, erosion of competitive advantage. Many organisations realise this and revert to the consultant to implement the change.


Q – What are some of the reasons for failure of an organisation to implement agility?

A – (Paul McDonald) – Organisational agility is easy to say but hard to implement. It is a top down process that must change the entire value chain of an organisation not one aspect. Many organisations want to change but are not prepared to change due to the way they are structured and the failures are top down mainly due to lack of drive from the top management.


Q – Trevor you have worked with a big transformational project, how did you make it happen.

A – (Trevor Mason) – This is an example of technology transformation project at ME bank. They had changed from a traditional unionised bank. They had had huge organic growth and were competing with the big four banks. They had to change or they would perish. They needed to change from two banking systems to one. There was work on the systems. It was decided to change first the deposits and then the loan systems. The system was put in at Christmas break assuming it was code ready. On testing it was found not to be code ready. The repercussion was we were burning about three million dollars a day. To fix this we had to put SWAT teams in place of coders, developers, testers and have quick feedback loops to arrive to a solution for the system. It was very uncomfortable as people had not experienced it before but we made our deadline.


Q – Nicola you have worked with IT organisations using Cloud computing technology. Has this helped in their agility.

A – (Nicola Cowley) – Definitely, I have worked with many IT organisations. There is an example where an organisation had to double the RAM on the server to do a test and then revert to the original RAM. This was doing in half an hour of the client requesting the change. This was possible only due to cloud technology. With traditional technology, it would have taken days just to order the hardware. Yes, Cloud technology has certainly helped in the agility process. It also increases productivity and helps makes decisions quicker.


QHow to make a non-agile organisation agile.

A– (ALL) – Some of the ways to do it is have a common language, standardised processes, break down the silos, have cross functional teams with different skill sets.

Employ an organisational psychologist who could help to understand the mindset of the people.

Have an organisation where there is a safe environment which encourages risk taking and learning new capabilities and skill sets.



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