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The Business Agility Canvas

True success in large-scale change initiatives is a rare thing.

A McKinsey study found that over 70 percent of such initiatives fail to achieve their stated goals. My sense is that when it comes to ‘agile transformations’, the picture is worse still. There is little alignment on what it means to be agile and even less around what it takes to achieve it. Organisations are wasting huge sums of money on coaches and consultants, and no clear approach in mind.

The three key issues I tend to observe are:

  1. The wrong people leading the change: Too often, the change is led by middle managers. In my experience, when it comes to organisation-wide change like achieving greater agility, senior levels of leadership must be the active drivers. It is rare for anyone else to have the kind of authority needed to effect the key structural, policy, and cultural changes required to make this kind of initiative a success.
  2. Too narrow a focus: As I have mentioned in previous posts, many organisations focus mainly on processes, practices, and frameworks – what I call ‘ways of working’. While this is important, there are many other areas that must also be addressed but are often largely ignored. These areas include culture, leadership, HR, team structures, and governance. My Six Enablers of Business Agility post and upcoming book cover this in more detail.
  3. A lack of a coherent approach: Richard Rumelt, author of the bestselling book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters, describes strategy as something that “honestly acknowledges the challenges we face and provides an approach to overcoming them.” When it comes to ‘agile transformations’, far too often there is a lack of understanding of the true problem to be addressed, and a complete absence of a coherent approach to overcoming it. This makes for a lot of work but very little progress.

Enter the Business Agility Canvas, a tool I created to address what I believe are the main causes of failure in most agile adoptions.

It is designed to provide a framework for key conversations around the transformation approach, to create alignment, and to guide leaders through the creation of a coherent, holistic approach to addressing problems. In many ways, this canvas is influenced by tools that have been around for some time. I have used them all in various combinations and they have proven valuable.

For over a decade, however, I have aspired to create something more holistic to help with the alignment of agile adoptions. Those aspirations culminated in the Business Agility Canvas, but it is only right to give a hat-tip to the tools that, along with Kotter’s 8 step process for leading change, have inspired me along the way.

V2MOM: A technique to create awareness, alignment and focus. I have used this to great effect in transformations. Created by Marc Benioff of, it stands for vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures. The clarity it offers on these things is incredibly powerful, but I found ‘methods’ too big a section and I wanted clarity across all the areas that would need to be addressed. It thus needed to be split.

The Six Enablers of Business Agility: Too many times, I have seen organisations focus purely on processes, practices, and frameworks, and ignore the key enablers of true agility. I created this model to raise awareness about all of the key areas that need to be addressed to avoid achieving merely the illusion of change. Thus, the ‘methods’ section of the V2MOM was split into six separate sections covering Leadership & Management, Organisational Culture, Organisational StructurePeople & Engagement, Governance & Funding, and Ways of Working. This gives a far greater understanding of the key areas to be addressed and ensures that nothing slips through the net.

Business Model Canvas: I have long been amazed by the simplicity and brilliance of this tool in creating a shared understanding about potential business models and capturing those insights on a single page. The alignment it creates is amazing. This inspired me to take what I had created over the years and make it visual.

There is a flow to the canvas.

Start with the top row – Vision, Values, and Success Criteria. This represents why the change is so important, as well as the key indicators of success or progress. Alignment is key here.

After there is clarity along the top line, move on to the two middle rows. These represent the Six Enablers of Business Agility.

They are the concrete actions you will take in each area. They may consist of changes to make, things to start doing, things to amplify, or things to stop doing. Some items will be bigger than others and will require further lower-level planning offline.

Remember, the canvas is about stating your intention to transform. The enablers ensure that no areas are ignored.

Finally, the bottom row represents the other things to take into account – Key Risks and Key Obstacles– as well as Key Stakeholders to bring on board.

Do remember that this is not a linear process.

There will be many iterations over time, so the process must be continuous. The canvas is a living document that evolves as you learn more about the transformation (see the diagram). Every element is highly interconnected with all of the others. There will be links among them. Feel free to represent those with arrows if that aids understanding.

Finally, the canvas is a tool for thinking through the transformation, for aligning with and forging a path toward the vision. It is also a great communication tool and information radiator.

What is important is not creating the perfect canvas, but creating a shared understanding about the vision, goals, and concrete actions needed to achieve real change. This forms your transformation strategy, and it should help your organisation avoid the pitfalls of the 70 percent of those entities that fail in their bid to transform.

I very much hope this tool will help more organisations to succeed.

Visualise and communicate your agile transformation on a single page to create alignment & buy-in

Read more about the Business Agility Canvas and download the 20-page accompanying guidebook for FREE today.

Dive deeper into the Business Agility Canvas, theSix Enablers of Business Agility and how to create high-performing, adaptive organisations in our Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) workshop.