From agile to hyperagile

the destination and the journey



PM SKills


AIG/United Guaranty

Most large organisations operate in models from the 19th century. These models are typically hierarchical, filled with approvals, placing decision making with leadership only. They were thought to last the test of time; however, in a complex 21st century world that changes at a quick pace, being nimble and increasing speed-to-market raises cause for redefining legacy operational models.

Hyperagile organisations are designed to adapt quickly to changes in business, economic, and geopolitical environments. They rely on trust and accountability to let employees take initiatives that lead to innovation and rapid execution.

It is high time for large organisations to become like them, by transforming to an agile way. Portfolio, programme, and project management can support the transition that large organisations must take to reach this bold objective.

Keywords: agile, hyperagile, organisation, change management, transformation, enterprise agile, portfolio management


Increasingly, small companies that are born in a hyperagile state disrupt corporate giants. Large organisations must proactively transform their operational model to ensure protection from market disruption. They must learn and model from these small companies.

This paper clarifies the difference between organisational hyperagility and project agility. It details what it is about and who is concerned. It also explains how portfolio, programme, and project management can support an organisational transformation to hyperagile.



Most of our organisations today look a lot like those that were built in the 19th or the 20th century. They are based on hierarchy, standardisation, division of work, and separation between those who organise work and processes and those who execute. Our traditional organisations have been built to last in a relatively stable world.

Today, the (economic) world is turbulent, uncertain, and complex. It is difficult to plan since we don't know what the future holds. We don't know how clients and competitors will react to an initiative that we take, and we are not sure of the consequences of the decisions that we make. Organisations must be able to pivot both rapidly and reactively to seize opportunities and maintain market position. This requires an ability to adopt change ahead of competitors, and adopt operational models to support this capability. Operational models of the 19th and 20th century are history—those that do not leave them behind, will also be left behind.


The best way for an organisation to adapt to complexity and turbulence is to be nimble, innovative, reactive, and agile. In order to best define organisational agility, compared to that of project management agility alone, we use the word hyperagile. Hyperagility is to the overall organisation the equivalent of agility for project management. Reaching true organisational agility is often the great challenge for large organisations.

Consider two common methodologies of project execution, waterfall and agile. Waterfall is planning-heavy and often silos executing functions. In contrast, today's various agile methodologies break down silos, and create captive business engagement among organisational stakeholders. However, this agile culture typically stops there. Hyperagility seeks to drive an agile culture further, beyond the walls of any one product team or project, embedding it into the organisational DNA. This is hyperagility.


An important part of reaching hyperagility is engaging all stakeholders, from employees to suppliers. Gallup has measured employee engagement over the world since 1998. Gallup's research, The State of the Global Workplace 2013, shows that:

  • Only 13% of employees are engaged at work. They work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organisation forward.
  • 63% are not engaged. They are essentially “checked out.” They're sleepwalking through their workday—putting time, but not energy or passion, into their work.
  • 24% of employees are actively disengaged. They aren't just unhappy at work; they're busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

Historically, many organisations have considered employee motivators to be annual bonuses, performance-based salary increases, and the occasional ice cream social to uncomfortably celebrate a milestone with colleagues typically hidden behind cube walls. They believed these incentives alone would draw passion and engagement from their employees. However, in today's competitive landscape, recruiting, motivating, and retaining top performers requires much more.

Data now suggests that drivers such as freedom to operate, innovate, and independently drive results are the new motivators. To achieve this, a collaborative culture and customer (market) centric environment are required. These evoke the ability to make decisions without fear or cumbersome overhead.

For many large organisations, the barriers for enabling this are only now coming down after a great deal of intellectual and market capital loss. Additionally, new organisations born from hyperagile incubators are now disrupting and forcing change.


In hyperagile organisations, stakeholders, including employees, are more engaged than in traditional organisations. People become engaged when they are given clear guidelines and freedom to do their job their way. They need to be able to take initiatives instead of being told to do repetitive tasks or to follow tight rules and procedures.

Trust is a key to hyperagility. When people use their ideas to solve problems without asking for authorisation, they feel trusted and responsible for the result. This allows for their organisation to be more reactive. Nobody wakes up in the morning to do a bad job: People might make mistakes sometimes but they learn from it. With teamwork, they get support from their colleagues, and they make better decisions. By integrating the ideas of all, they innovate more.

Many large organisations leverage a top-down approach to decision making. This typically leads to a lack of trust in bottom-up decisions. Whether through faults in portfolio management and project execution, or organisational design and strategic direction, this method slows overall reactivity and the downstream ability to execute.

A hyperagile organisation is completely inverse of this model. While strategic themes and objectives may be set at the top levels of the organisation, all teams have clear line-of-sight and are trusted to rapidly execute toward that goal. There is simply no ability for misalignment or lack of clarity to impede execution within a hyperagile organisation.

Due to the size and scale of large organisations, transforming to this hyperagile state often requires a very strategic top-down cultural shift, which begins with trust. Executives, senior leadership, and existing processes can be impediments to this particular area of focus. Evaluating each of these areas through a lens of trust is one of the most critical parts to achieving hyperagile in a large organisation.


Organisations are hyperagile not only because they apply agile project management techniques. Hyperagility requires five dimensions of agility:

  1. Strategic agility: requires having a strong mission statement and stakeholders who commit to this organisation's purpose. The organisation selects only strategic and related innovative opportunities that help reach the goal. It is like a predator patiently waiting for its prey.
  2. Portfolio agility: is about being able to rapidly reallocate resources to strategic initiatives (including projects and programs) that have the highest potential of value creation and customer delight.
  3. Project and program agility: is about being able to move forward in a turbulent environment, when they don't know in advance what the future looks like, when changes might come from the project clients, as well as from a complex technical environment.
  4. Operation agility: is the ability for the organisation to seize cost-cutting as well as revenue-enhancing opportunities faster than competitors by trusting employees to make the right decisions.


Due to their size, large organisations have numerous blind spots. While often continuously focused on market trends, financial indicators, competitive data, and other important trends, they often overlook the hidden giants.

Hidden giants are lean companies, incubated and born in a hyperagile state. They have focus, clear strategic goals, superb talent, and fresh ideas.

Hidden giants might have the following persona:

  • Less than 5 years old
  • Hyperagile
  • Initially staffed with top talent from various subject matter areas
  • Maintains presence in popular urban area
  • Has open office floor plans, bright colours, collaborative work areas
  • Casual dress code
  • Holocracy-based organisational model
  • Focused on a few key products/services
  • Less than 100 employees

For many large organisations, this company would not seem a threat. However, while the large organisation is distracted by normal operation and existing methodologies, the hidden giant could be laser-focused on one of their key product areas. Perhaps one of their strategic goals is to become number one in a market covered by the large organisation.

For the leaner, hyperagile organisation, the capability to quickly surround strategy with actionable plans is organic. The entire culture of the organisation is collaborative and shared around this common vision. The speed, quality, and marketability of products that can hit the market from hidden giants can be disastrous for a large company.

Once a product or service is released, rapid growth and market disruption may cause the large company to realise enough revenue loss to cause shareholders to respond in-kind. Even if the large organisation wants to change quickly, it is often not feasible due to its innate operational model. They are simply not nimble.

Should the large organisation attempt to change during a period of market disruption, typically using a big-bang approach or internal “battle cry” strategy ultimately built on the same legacy methodologies, the cost of change will simply not keep pace with the smaller organisations continued disruption.

Accepting further market share loss, rapidly changing internal operational models, or acquiring the smaller organisation and integrating the culture, are generally resulting options of the aforementioned scenario. In any scenario, the larger organisation must change in some manner to prevent decline.

Hidden giants exist, and are growing in frequency across many industries today. In 2015 Forbes issued a report that focused on 25 start-ups across four industries; it was stated that the next billion-dollar start-up is approximately five years old, has $US 3.5 billion in total raised equity, and a $US 630 million average valuation. The report also stated that these companies are focused on tackling the inefficiencies overlooked by current market players, and winning. Large organisations need to begin proactively thinking like hidden giants in order to plan for an uncertain future.


As large organisations begin to realize the power of hyperagile states, and proactively recognise hidden giants, transformations are occurring. CEOs across the globe are asking executives to “make us like them.” This is of course, traditionally followed with, “by next quarter.”

Ideally, a transformation of this scale can be managed through a measured approach. However, at times, this must be conducted rapidly due to market disruption current underway. In either case, existing project, programme, and portfolio management (PPPM) can support this transformation due to its unique posture in most organisations. One of the first steps to providing this support is to begin thinking like a hyperagile organisation.

As a large organisation, driving change of this magnitude can be an extremely difficult undertaking. With organisational size, so comes a certain detraction of mass. This could be the difference between transformations taking months versus years. It is important to set expectations at the onset. If executive leadership wants something simply unreasonable, educate the top. If reactive transformation is needed, select or build a smaller business unit to more rapidly transform as a defensive posture. It is very important to remain agile in how you execute your transformation. This is how hyperagile organisations are able to rapidly change without losing forward momentum.

Hyperagile organisations have clear and focused strategies. Understanding and fully elaborating a large organisation's strategy is a key step in determining how much work lies ahead in a transformation. Some have very vague mission statements, while others have ambiguous goals. To become hyperagile, there must be clear, focused goals that are fully understood and actionable at all levels of the organisation.

A large organisation must have open, clear, and bi-directional communication for employees regarding that strategy. If not, it is vital that this is developed and communicated from leadership before proceeding in any transformative effort. Failure here is a guaranteed transformative fail-point.

Ensuring that the entire organisation is thinking in the same strategic manner is key to thinking like a hyperagile organisation. Herein lies the ability to have many hands making light work, and making progress swiftly.

Culture can be collaborative or siloed within organisations. Large organisations typically suffer from a top-down form of paralysis, which silos them by business division. As a result, cultures of fear, poor communication, and politics can lead to a build-up of toxicity. This is debilitating to hyperagility.

It is important to begin opening new communication channels, interactions, and dialog between groups. It is also important to identify potential detractors and detractor groups as soon as feasible. There are numerous models to do this; however the key here is to over-communicate, build relationships, and heal any old wounds. Never underestimate the impetus of culture in a transformation. While transforming a large organisation's culture can be difficult and seem overstated, a hyperagile organisation's culture is a key driver to their success.


Only when strategy and culture are understood, can change can begin. This told, one size to change doesn't fit all. Prescribed methods can led to predictable failures. Large organisations require flexible approaches to succeed in agile implementation or related integrations.

It is important for any large organisation to take inventory prior to a transformation. A portfolio management office can support developing an organisational plan for the transformation. It is important for the portfolio to align with the organisational strategy, providing guidance and support in planning. An organisational “true North” should be set, with expectations to tack along the way. This is how hyperagile organisations work. They are able to plan rapidly, execute, fail, and adapt quickly as needed. The transformation to this state should take the same approach.

As previously noted, PPPM can support the transformation due to its unique posture in the organisation. It can be used to spread cultural, process, and tool change throughout the organisation, due to its overall reach. Work streams are an ideal tool for this need, typically.

Work streams concept: Transforming a large organisation to a hyperagile state requires changes to numerous areas of process, organisational structure, culture, and supportive tools. The PPPM can encapsulate numerous work streams to coordinate and drive change across the organisation, while innately introducing hyperagile principles.

For example, one workstream may focus on the specific process needs in order to make a hyperagile transformation. Various affected stakeholders from across the organisation join together in a work stream to design and propose changes. Once complete, they report out, train others, evangelise, and move to the next need. This not only builds a hyperagile culture, but also improves the speed at which the transformation may occur and inherently trains the greater organisation.

Work steams suggested: There are various work streams suggested for a hyperagile transformation:

  • Governance and Process: Legacy methodologies and governance slow speed-to-market. Assessing the value and cost of existing methods in contrast to more agile methodologies will prove important. The goal here will be to remove any process or oversight not required by regulatory bodies that would otherwise slow down your speed-to-market or employee engagement.
  • People: Developing cultural activities such as new employee engagement activities, communication, and innovation labs. Enhancing training programs or other benefits to employees, which improve engagement.
  • Tools: Removing and improving tool set impediments, which decrease speed-to-market and employee effectiveness. Exploring investments in new products, which may further enable product innovation or organisational effectiveness.
  • Customer (market): Focusing on customer (market) needs, educating the organisation about new trends and bringing new levels of awareness to the organisation regarding the organisation's value proposition, market differentiators, and so forth.


Once the transformation is complete, a key aspect for any large organisation to remember is that change and innovation is ongoing. Disruptors are born every day, and the competition is building momentum as they too move into hyperagile existence.

It is important to maintain focus on organisational strategies, and be ready to pivot as needed. Responding to the market, listening to employees, and driving new innovations will support future growth and opportunity from this model.

Additionally, once in this hyperagile model, large organisations benefit from a new iron triangle that organically evolves from the hyperagile state.

This new iron triangle exists between executive leadership (C-suite), portfolio management, and the voice of the employee/customer. Here, all elements of the organisation come together organically to ensure quality.

Hyperagililty in a large organisation allows this new speed-to-market, effective communication, strategic visibility, and quality of execution. Through this, a large organisation is better poised to lead, compete, and innovate in the 21st century.



Yves Cavarec is a consultant, speaker, and author. He invented the concept of hyperagile organisations.

Following 20 years of experience in project, programme, portfolio, and change management across a vast scale and scope of industries and contexts, today Yves is a hyperagility evangelist. He helps in developing cooperation and reducing competition inside organisations.


Brandon Fargis is vice president of the Enterprise Project Management Office for United Guaranty, a member company of AIG.

His 16-year career has spanned leadership roles in software, financial, insurance, and legal markets. He has led numerous PPPM-centered, agile-focused transformations, and is passionate about driving positive change within organisations.


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Cavarec, Yves (2015, October). Toward hyperagility. PMI Global Congress North America 2015, Orlando, FL, USA.

Gallup. (2013). State of the global workplace.

Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®guide) – Fifth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Truebridge Captial Partners. (15 April 2015). 4 big industries and their next generation tech disruptors. Forbes. Retrieved from

© 2016, Yves Cavarec, Brandon Fargis
Originally published as part of the 2016 PMI® Global Congress Proceedings – Barcelona, Spain



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