Business Rules Solutions: Business Agility vs. Organizational Agility

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 it 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.

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

2 by Roger T. Burlton, Ronald G. Ross and John A. Zachman, 2017. The Management Imperatives are elaborated on

3This 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.

4McAfee 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.

Ron Ross

Ron Ross

Ronald G. Ross is Co-Founder and Principal of Business Rule Solutions, LLC ( BRS provides workshops, consulting services, publications, and methodology supporting business analysis, business rules, business vocabulary, and rule management. His popular public seminars on business rules and business analysis, the first on business rules (starting in 1996) and the longest-running in the industry, are given through AttainingEdge ( At BRS, Mr. Ross co-develops Proteus®, its landmark business analysis and business rules methodology, which features numerous innovative techniques including the popular RuleSpeak® (available free through These are the latest offerings in a 30-year career that has consistently featured creative, business-driven solutions. Mr. Ross also serves as Executive Editor of and its flagship on-line publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a regular columnist for the Journal's Commentary section which also features John Zachman, Chris Date, Terry Halpin, and Roger Burlton., hosted and sponsored by BRS, is a vertical community for professionals working with business rules and related areas. Mr. Ross was formerly Editor of the Data Base Newsletter from 1977 to 1998. Mr. Ross is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He has served as Co-Chair of the annual Business Rules Forum Conference since 1997. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of the two landmark BRG papers,"The Business Motivation Model: Business Governance in a Volatile World" (2000, revised 2005) and the "Business Rules Manifesto" (2003). He is also active in OMG standards development for business rules and business models. Mr. Ross is the author of eight professional books. His newest are: Business Rule Concepts (2005), a second edition of his popular, easy-to-read 1998 handbook, and Principles of the Business Rule Approach, Addison-Wesley (2003), featuring the business rationale and opportunity for business rules. An earlier work, The Business Rule Book (1994, 1997), was the seminal work in the field. Mr. Ross received his M.S. in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology, and his B.A. from Rice University.

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