Stop Trying to Be Agile: Agile is a process, not a goal

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Agile has become an industry buzzword, a marketing term that organizations use to try to show that they are responsive to their clients and adaptive to industry changes.  In fact, the perception of being an Agile organization has such strong market value that claiming to be Agile often becomes the objective unto itself.  If the goal of your organization is to say that you are Agile, then you may be missing the point.  

Trying to be an Agile organization is like trying to be a happy person.  You do not achieve Agility (or happiness) by making it your primary objective; you achieve it by making constructive changes and taking positive actions that get you there.

A truly Agile organization reaps the benefits of having empowered teams that are focused on regularly delivering the highest business value outputs to meet the most current market needs.  Empowering teams leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction, reduced turnover, and greater retention of corporate knowledge. Regular delivery of the highest business value outputs protects the organization from wasting money (and time) on work that looks good on paper but has minimal return.  Meeting the most current market needs allows the organization to more easily respond to industry changes, unexpected roadblocks, and emergent information.  Implemented correctly, Agile methods are a powerful toolset that can maximize your ongoing investment and make your organization substantially more resilient to the inevitable changes in the industry.

Becoming an Agile organization starts with making shifts in your organizational culture to support adaptive planning, embrace change, respond to emergent information, value experimentation, reward teamwork, and encourage continuous improvement.  The specific Agile method that your organization chooses to follow is, in many respects, less important than ensuring that your organizational culture supports the teams that are doing this work.  An organization that values corporate reports showing the appearance of productivity over the regular production of tangible outputs is not prepared to become Agile, even if the delivery teams scrupulously apply every Agile practice in their daily work.  Equally, an organization that mandates expected outputs upfront with no opportunity for teams to adjust these deliverables as information emerges is equally unprepared.  Without a supportive organizational environment, your delivery teams will be handcuffed to rigid restrictions that undermine the value of Agile methods, and your quest to become a truly Agile organization will be lost from the start.

When teams do begin implementing their selected Agile methods, ensure that they understand the principles behind the Agile practices that they follow not simply the step-by-step instructions.  One of the most common mistakes on Agile projects is training teams on what to do without giving them a clear understanding of why they are doing it.  If teams understand that adhering to short delivery cycles can increase productivity (imminent deadlines) and minimize the risk of deliverables going too far in the wrong direction without stakeholder feedback, they are less likely to arbitrarily change delivery cycle times from four weeks to eight weeks.  They are also more likely to be innovative, take calculated risks, and be responsive to requested changes because they have not invested substantial amounts of time creating each deliverable.  Similarly, if teams understand that actively engaging stakeholders in the review of working solutions leads to a substantially greater alignment of requirements, more relevant feedback, higher quality outputs, and shorter time to market, they will be less likely to reschedule review meetings, to use prototypes (or documents) as substitutes, and more likely to encourage and embrace stakeholder feedback.

Last, you need to appreciate that the benefits of implementing Agile methods do not appear overnight.  You need time for teams to learn the chosen methods, apply them in their work, and refine them to meet the specific needs of your organization.  Over time, you will see the increases in productivity, quality, customer satisfaction and employee retention that are the hallmarks of a truly Agile organization.

If you establish a supportive culture, encourage teams to apply Agile principles in their work, and allow time for the benefits of Agile methods to emerge, you will become an Agile organization.  And you will be happier too.  

Many thanks to Maureen Musgrave of Outfront Media (https://www.outfrontmedia.com) for inspiring this article.

Comments

Jamie Cooke
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posted 7 weeks 1 day ago

Thank you for your comment, Stacy!

Technically, Agile is both a mindset and a range of approaches, methodologies, processes and procedures that can be followed to turn the theory into action. Jamie :-)
Stacy Moore
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posted 7 weeks 1 day ago

Agile is actually an approach not a process

Agile is actually an approach not a process. It's a way of working, and it is a major mindset and operational change that doesn't happen over night.

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