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05 October 2017 3 min read

Transformation agenda no.2 in oil and gas: “Be nimble”

Birte Fehse

Birte Fehse
Senior Manager - Energy, utilities and resources

Oil and gas companies operate in a fast-changing environment – soon, they might be employing more data scientists and statisticians than geologists and engineers. This requires a good deal of adaptability and resilience - the ability to change without losing heart in the process. In this week’s blog, we are focusing on the second of three transformation agendas: “Be nimble” – supporting often complex, matrix-organisations where multiple stakeholders are involved in any one decision to be more nimble in turning ideas into solutions.

So what are the key factors in creating a nimble organisation? Being nimble requires a move towards more flexible organisational, decision-making devolution and greater empowerment of individuals. The main principles of “agile”, though conceived in the context of software development, were nicely summarised as far back as 2001, stating that agile organisations value all of the below – but the items to the left more than the items on the right[1]:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working solutions over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Applying these principles to organisational structures, we distinguish between elements that remain stable and elements that should be flexible.

Stable elements provide the backbone around which agility can be achieved without compromising safety. These should include the company vision and culture which act as a tactical and behavioural compass. Equally, risk appetite, procedures and operating standards should not be negotiable without due process. Clear professional development and talent management opportunities need to be in place in order to provide the workforce with the tools and security to do an excellent job.

Given stability around these aspects, more flexibility can be built around individual missions and resource deployment. Teams and individuals should be able to respond quickly to an incident or change in business requirement, requiring a more frequent challenge of progress and readiness to admit failure. This also requires more project-based management of people, including the remote-working challenges this entails and a move away from fixed reporting lines, towards more continuous performance reviews, on-the-job feedback and coaching. Nimble working requires more extensive collaboration and knowledge sharing, coupled with rapid development cycles to test possible solutions. Agility does not mean reducing control, instead it requires a very disciplined approach to quick development and evaluation cycles, complementing safety-critical systems design. Organisations need to embrace the concept of “safe failure” - setting expectations about where a level of experimentation and testing of boundaries is and is not desirable and ensuring that appropriate mechanisms are in place to learn from failures or near-misses.

“Being nimble” is not something exclusive to tech or smaller companies – even large, mature organisations can put into place mechanisms that enable more nimble responses, but it requires a significant change in both culture and operating model, including changes to knowledge and people management practices, the performance management process and attitudes to embracing safe failure whilst maintaining a rigorous focus on business results and quality.


[1] https://www.agilealliance.org/agile101/the-agile-manifesto/