Agility is a big topic in almost every company and I often have conversations with decision-makers or students who are looking for a topic related to agility for their thesis. In the numerous conversations I noticed, one thing struck me: When it comes to agility, it’s always a question of perspective. I differentiate between corporations and SMEs (small and medium-sized companies – up to 249 employees and 50 million sales).

For a long time I thought about how exactly the differences could be and couldn’t come up with a meaningful answer myself. Piercy, N., & Rich, N. (2015) examined in the study: “The relationship between lean operations and sustainable operations” in 5 case studies the connection between agility and stability in companies. It struck me that the study did not directly examine my question, but showed me two exciting goals of agility:

  • Introduction of agility with the aim of increasing speed and flexibility in a rigid organization (reducing too much stability)
  • Introduction of agility with the aim of maintaining speed and flexibility in a chaotic organization and building stability (reducing chaos and building stability)

Stability-first: corporations and agility

Corporations are often considered to be very stable and rigid constructs. This is usually due to the high number of employees and the many stakeholders in the company. By restructuring, companies try like BMW or Adidas with the help of agile teams, which you have defined as a rigid and slow structure to become somewhat more flexible and faster. The corporations are also characterized by special strategy departments, high budgets, external consultations and dedicated implementation processes of agility.

Corporations are therefore often optimized for stability, controllability and control, which should be reduced through the introduction of agile methods. When introducing agility in corporations, it is important to constructively reduce stability towards a little more freedom. The aim is to increase flexibility and speed.

Reading tip: Scrum in corporations

Lean first: SMEs and agility

I experienced it differently with SMEs. These often differ due to the small process landscape, short decision-making paths and a hands-on mentality in management. So there are no committees, it is “just done”. At the same time, there are usually hardly any budgets, consultations or strategy departments in SMEs. Instead, this is usually done by the employees in addition to their day-to-day business.

Often SMEs are still very small (less than 10 employees) when they are founded and have grown over the long term (100 and more employees). During this time, hardly any processes were introduced, and if so, very late. Starting with 100 employees in particular, initial processes and hierarchies (or an agile form of organization) are urgently needed. So it is usually a bit more chaotic in SMEs than in corporations.

This is an example of successful agility Company noris network , which uses DevOps methods to build stability in the organization due to high growth but also wants to maintain flexibility. Another example is Paessler who strive for similar goals with the help of Scrum and agile mindsets as well as the Prolead Technologies, who have also created an internal culture with the help of Scrum.

SMEs are often characterized by growth – by few employees and the associated high agility due to the spirit of the founder. In the further course, these companies grow and want to maintain this agility despite growth by introducing agility, but not sink into chaos.

Reading tips :


As you read, you will notice that both views are exactly the opposite. While corporations are often very stable and want to reduce this stability a little, SMEs tend to try to build stability due to growth. It is therefore important to examine both types of company separately. I will soon publish a specialist article on agility in SMEs, please write to me at (available from March 2019).

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Source: Piercy, N., & Rich, N. (2015). The relationship between lean operations and sustainable operations. International Journal of Operations & Production Management , 35 (2), 282-315.

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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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