Business Agility vs. Organizational Agility: How the Business Agility Manifesto Sees It

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

I get as excited as the next person about current trends in how work is best organized in digital companies.  Those trends include egalitarianism (especially of ideas), transparency of decision-making, openness to experimentation, fact orientation, servant leadership, middle managers as player-coaches, self-organizing and self-directed teams — the list of social innovations goes on.

You can immerse yourself in all those trends and lead yourself to believe that business is being reinvented.  In some sense, yes it is — but in the most important sense, no it's not.

The death of companies is not imminent.[1]  Top management is not going to disappear.  Organizational hierarchies will continue to exist, even where flattened and energized.

What does that mean for discussion of agility?  It means that if you want to pursue true business agility, your thinking must be grounded in management imperatives.  That is exactly the approach taken by The Business Agility Manifesto.[2]

Put simply, management exists because the business owns assets from which value must be created.[3]  The persisting need for strategy, security, and optimization all arise from that fundamental fact of life.

The pursuit of business agility arises because the business ecosystem has never before been so dynamic, at least on the compressed timeframes we see today.  Business agility is about creating a sustainable means to continuously change and adapt, while preserving, protecting, and enriching business assets.[4]  Increasingly those assets include knowledge, a point the Manifesto takes as a critical point of departure.

Talking about agility only in terms of how to compact and energize organizational structures (hierarchies), while useful and exciting, fails to address the fundamental raison d'être for companies.  Organizational agility is simply not comprehensive business agility.  If only it were that simple!  Don't be fooled.  The problem of true business agility runs far deeper than social or work innovations can ever resolve on their own.


[1]  Andrew McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson confirm and explain this point brilliantly in chapter 13 "Are Companies Passé (Hint: No)" in Machine, Platform, Crowd, W.W. Norton & Co (2017), 402pp.  return to article

[2]  The Business Agility Manifesto:  Building for Change, by Roger T. Burlton,  Ronald G. Ross, and John A. Zachman, (2017)  The Management Imperatives are elaborated on return to article

[3]  This statement should not be interpreted as saying "management exists to add value."  When something is owned, that something must be protected and controlled.  Management hopefully adds value but exists primarily to command and control. return to article

[4]  McAfee and Brynjolfsson use the more elegant term 'residual rights of ownership'.  Their argument (very briefly) runs like this.  Since contracts with other parties will always be incomplete, companies with their managers and hierarchies will continue to exist to make decisions in all cases where the contracts fall short.  In other words, even with distributed ledgers (blockchains), smart contracts, powerful platforms, and machine intelligence, a completely flat (purely egalitarian) business playing field will remain unworkable. return to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Business Agility vs. Organizational Agility: How the Business Agility Manifesto Sees It" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 19, No. 10, (Oct. 2018)

About our Contributor:

Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the BRS Methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:

Ron serves as Executive Editor of and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on For more information about Ron visit Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

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