Six steps to create an agile communication department

Six major factors provide an organization or a department with the means to become more agile. They should be aligned by the communication department. The six agility factors - as they overlap to a certain extent - can be grouped into three dimensions: Structures and processes, culture and people, tools and technologies.

 

How do you establish an agile communication department?

Map - Hintergrundbild

Structures: Agile organizations are based on a network of empowered teams. Work is based on flat structures and task related roles. Hands-on governance and decentralization of power speed up decision making. This can (but must not) be supported by an open physical work space.

 

Processes: Quicker decision and learning cycles help organizations to reach results more quickly. Standardized ways of working (e.g. with the help of agile tools) make these processes transparent and more efficient. Processes should incorporate a standard feedback, learning and knowledge sharing element.

 

Tools: A variety of agile working methods exist, including well-established tools such as Scrum, Kanban or Design Thinking. They prescribe elements and techniques to run projects in an agile way.

 

People: Executives and employees require a new mindset with a new openness for collaboration, sharing and self-management. New competencies are needed by leaders and staff. Companies have to invest in continuous training and keep people motivated by new incentives and career options.

 

Technologies: Project management software and knowledge management platforms constitute the (mainly digital) technological backbone. They help to run projects with team members spread out in different locations, record insights and store knowledge.

 

Culture: For agile initiatives to thrive, a strategic cultural change is needed based on collaboration and sharing. Enabling and empowering people are major success factors. At the same time, mistakes and risks need to be tolerated to a larger extent.

 

 

Key facts

  • Organizations (and their communication departments) need to align six factors when setting up agile structures.
  • Structures & processes: The most complex and challenging steps are to establish new structures, create flatter hierarchies and enhance collaboration in teams. Some communication departments have started to create ‘islands of agility’, while others pursue more fundamental transformations. However, the majority is still cautious about implementing radical changes and tearing down hierarchies.
  • Culture & people: Changing people’s mindset and creating a new corporate culture are generally considered to be the most important levers. Without the commitment and openness of leaders and employees, agility will never come to life. The new corporate culture should be based on empowerment, collaboration and shared responsibility. It also requires a new openness for failure.
  • Tools & technologies: Agile tools and technologies form the basis for a new way of collaboration and offer support to teams in their endeavor to become more agile. Many agile tools such as Scrum or Kanban, or elements of agile techniques, can be implemented fairly easily and usually operate on a trial-and-error basis.

 

Methodology

  • A systematic literature review across various disciplines was conducted to gain a comprehensive understanding of the concept of agility and its key dimensions.
  • Several conceptual agility frameworks were analysed and relevant aspects for communication management were synthesised.
  • Thirty-eight in-depth interviews with chief communication officers and senior communication managers from multinational companies were conducted between January and March 2018. The companies came from diverse industries and together represent more than three million employees.
  • First case studies in selected departments were conducted between August and September 2018 to gain further insights into the practices of coping with agility in communication departments. Further case studies will follow.

 

Scientific background

  • The problem of how organizations can successfully deal with constantly changing environments – today described as “VUCA world” – has been a prevailing topic both in industry and academia for decades.
  • As early as the 1920s and especially in the 1960s, management researchers started to develop concepts about how organizations deal with increasingly volatile environments. The more specific concept of agility was proposed in the 1990s by researchers at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania.
  • Originally, the concept of agility focused on agile manufacturing. It gained momentum when picked up by the software industry, where the concept is most commonly applied today.
  • Since a decade, agility has become one of the most-discussed business concepts of our time in order to become faster and more flexible.