Across the globe, the Agile movement is reshaping the workplace. According to Harvard Business Review’s “Embracing Agile” article published in 2016, the movement began in software development in 2001 and is currently spreading swiftly to all parts, and all kinds of organizations, as well. Many people around the world are already using Agile methods. However, what does Agile mean exactly?
All those Agile methods, what are they all about? More than 70 distinct Agile practices exist. For newbies, even the Agile Manifesto’s four ideals and twelve principles might be a challenge.
What in the world are you going to do with a mind-numbing swarm of seemingly disparate ideas?
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As a starting point, let’s consider why. Agile allows firms to adapt to the constant flux of the business environment. As the world becomes more unpredictable, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, they can thrive. Agility is on the rise, thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of those who enjoy working in this manner as well as the realizations of businesses that Agile is the only way to survive in today’s market. Firms need to adapt quickly to the ever-changing environment in which they operate. A growing number of firms are relying on Agile methods to manage their software development, which is a major factor in their success.
Teams in an Agile organization are constantly delivering new value to the client. With ongoing connections with users, the organization can constantly improve what it does for each user, sometimes even in real-time. There are several advantages to working in a shared tempo with other teams when it comes to solving large, complicated problems. Using Agile in the proper way results in teams operating in a business model that generates value for both the company and its customers. Everything-the work being done, the information being shared, and the money being spent—moves quickly and seamlessly, resulting in minimal or no marginal costs and enormous scale benefits.
To be agile, you must work smarter, not harder. Adding more labour in less time isn’t the goal; rather, the goal is to provide more value with less effort.
Agile is a response to today’s primary business challenge: how to deliver instant, frictionless, and intimate value at scale. While technology plays a role in enabling this kind of performance, Agile management is the driving force behind it. When top-down bureaucracies deploy digital technologies, machine learning, platforms, blockchain technology, or the Internet of Things, they often achieve only a minimal level of success. An internally-focused bureaucracy will never be able to provide a frictionless consumer experience. Changes brought about by new technologies that are driven only by internal innovation are frequently unwelcome by customers.
Bureaucracies fail miserably when it comes to providing frictionless customer experiences because they cannot work across organizational silos and communicate directly with end-users. In addition, bureaucracies, with their long chains of command, are unable to respond quickly enough to market opportunities.
Because all businesses have access to the same technology, in a competitive market, it isn’t the technology itself that makes a difference. The most important factor is how well the company utilizes the technology. Agile is the key to long-term digital success.
To Be Agile Is to Be…
Embracing Agile has several connotations for a business. Squirrels, ballet dancers, and soccer stars are all examples of agile and nimble individuals. It’s unlikely that you’d picture a giant corporation as anything but clumsy, slow, and out to make money off you. Because they aren’t, corporations aren’t often thought of as agile. For us, it’s normal to work with businesses that are stuck in their ways and consumed with the minutiae of their internal systems. They might live by the philosophy, “You take what we manufacture and that’s the way it is.” As a result, it isn’t clear if firms can become more agile and nimble. Even so, the Learning Consortium’s site inspections reveal that major Agile firms are present and well-known.
Organizations that have adopted Agile have three key traits, as we can observe when we examine closer.
The Small Team Law
The Law of the Small Team is the first common property of Agile companies. Small, cross-functional teams working in short cycles on relatively simple tasks and receiving regular feedback from the final customer or end-user are at the heart of the agile philosophy.
It took about a decade for the Agile movement to figure out how to consistently produce high-performance teams. Of course, the concept of teams was not a new one. The magic is familiar to most of us. As a group, we’ve all been in a situation where communication has been effortless, and the group has seemed to think and act together. When working as part of a group, we might approach problem-solving, making decisions, and acting as if it were one continuous process. No one is in authority here, so we’re free to act as we see fit. We have faith in the other team members. Those who have faith are rewarded by results. In some ways, it seems as if the group has its thoughts and ideas. Having a face-to-face dialogue is the best way to resolve any disagreements. It’s a lot of fun.
The workplaces of the 20th century were vastly different from those of today. A standard product was delivered in vast quantities by enormous systems. Pieces of work were reduced to useless shards. Organizational leaders ensured that employees were performing by established standards. A similar chain of command was established by those preceding the boss. Division by division, plans and budgets were prepared and allotted… Massive, internally-focused systems frequently obscured the relationship between any one piece of work and its influence on a consumer. What happened? Even fewer employees are passionate about their jobs, which spells catastrophe for companies that are increasingly reliant on an engaged staff.
Writers throughout the 20th century argued that working in small groups was the best method to accomplish a task. Mary Parker Follett, Elton Mayo, Chester Barnard, Abraham Maslow, Douglas McGregor, Peters and Waterman, and Smith and Katzenbach were all part of a long line of pioneers.
Despite this, most organizations remained bureaucratic. When it came to delivering disciplined and efficient performance at scale, the prevalent thought was that bureaucracy was preferable.
Additionally, most teams of today’s corporations are merely teams in the name. Many of them didn’t even have a team in the traditional sense. There was no surprise from the squad leader’s demeanour.
True self-organizing teams that excelled in their respective fields were few and far between. It’s common knowledge in team literature that high-performing teams—teams that weren’t merely 10% or 20% better than the average—were the result of good luck, but this has never been proven. All the planets needed to line up perfectly. Bringing together the appropriate individuals was a need. There needs to be a good rapport between the two people. The environment had to be right for the task at hand. It wasn’t anything you could control or plan for. It’s possible that you’d like to encourage it. In the end, though, it was all just a joyful accident!
It was Agile that discovered how to consistently produce high-performance teams. A Nobel medal for management, which there isn’t, would be awarded to the architects of Agile if there was any justice in the world, which there isn’t. Even though it is largely established in the software development community, it is still not frequently understood or recognized in general management.
Termed the “Law of The Customers.”
The Law of the Customer is the second characteristic of agile businesses. It’s no secret that agile practitioners are devoted to making customers happy. Manifesto’s first premise acknowledges that the client is the most important stakeholder. For the first decade of Agile, software engineers were more concerned with building high-performance teams than they were with putting client needs first. During this time, teams were often disconnected from the actual client. Instead, a “product owner” acted as a proxy for the customer and claimed to know exactly what they wanted.
After solving the problem of how to consistently produce high-performance teams, the emphasis moved to the enormous change in power in the marketplace from seller to buyer. How did these product proprietors know what the buyer wanted? It became imperative to answer this question because of the Law of the Customer’s sudden and startling shift of power from a corporation to a customer. Increasingly, clients have access to a variety of options and information thanks to the advent of the Internet, deregulation, and other advancements in information and communication technology (ICT). They suddenly had control over what they wanted, and they wanted it now.
As a result, businesses had to reassess how they saw their customers. It was common knowledge in the 20th century that businesses could exploit and influence their clients. However, the company would respond, “We understand what you mean, but that is what we are delivering.” We’ll think about making adjustments in our future model, which is still several years away.” A less effective strategy in today’s increasingly competitive industry when clients expect instantaneous, frictionless, intimate responsiveness at scale. What’s the point of waiting for a couple of years? If you don’t get it fixed right away, I’ll find someone who can.
Agile’s most evident and most elusive tenet is the centrality of the client. “The customer is number one” has become a catchphrase for 20th-century managers, but the business was nonetheless administered internally as a top-down bureaucracy focused on producing value for shareholders.
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But it’s not only that they don’t care about the customer. However, they only go as far as their internal systems and processes will allow them to help the customer. It doesn’t matter how much a company claims to be customer-focused: if the information it needs to answer basic questions from customers is scattered across multiple systems that don’t communicate with one another, or if customer services are cut to meet a quarterly profit target, then the customers will suffer greatly as a result. The customer bears the brunt of the burden. “The customer is number one” is only a slogan in a top-down bureaucracy, where internal systems, processes, and goals take precedence over those of the consumer.
“Customer focus” in an Agile organisation means something quite different. Customers are at the heart of everything that Agile organisations do. As a result, all employees have a clear understanding of what they’re contributing to the final consumer and how their work is making a difference to them—or not. Customers and users will begin to wonder why they are even doing this labour in the first place. Continuous new value is generated for consumers by adjusting the firm’s goals; values; principles; procedures; systems; practises; data structures; incentives.
Principle of Interdependence
The Law of the Network is the third attribute. It is customary for Agile practitioners to view the organisation as a dynamic, transparent network of players working together to achieve a single goal: satisfying consumers.
It used to be expected that if you could establish high-performing teams within your organisation, then your firm would be considered “Agile.” It didn’t work out that way. If the rest of the organisation is run as a top-down bureaucracy focused on lowering costs or improving the current stock price, it’s not enough to have Agile teams who are only focused on delivering more value to the customer. The top-down dynamic weakens and finally destroys Agile teams if it is allowed to persist.
Aside from a lack of coordination between teams in a pure bureaucracy, Agile teams might face similar issues when housed in a bureaucracy.
There is a common issue, even in businesses that are aggressively embracing Agile at the level of the individual teams inside them. According to Scrum Alliance studies, 80-90 percent of Agile team’s report feeling conflicted about how their team operates in relation to the overall organisation. Half of the episodes were labelled as “serious” because of the mounting tension.
In the Agile movement, the new frontier is the Law of the Network, which is how to make the entire organisation Agile. When it comes to implementing an Agile strategy in a business, it’s a difficult problem to solve. The idea that a company is a well-oiled machine whose sole purpose is to maximise the value of its current business model is at the core of management theory in the twentieth century. According to Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg in their book How Google Works, “Traditional, MBA-style thinking” requires that you build up a sustainable competitive edge over rivals and then seal the fortress and defend it with boiling oil and blazing arrows.”
Atop the stronghold, there is a presumption that those in charge know best. According to business school professor John Kotter, the fortress is “designed to limit risk and keep individuals in their boxes and silos.” To get the job done, workers “are working with a system designed to get today’s job done, a system that expects most people, typically benignly, to remain silent and take orders and do their jobs in a monotonous manner.” The current business model takes precedence over the discovery of new avenues.
Task forces, strategy departments, tiger teams, skunkworks, R&D, dual operating systems, knowledge funnels, and so on have been tried over the years to ease the organization’s static nature. However, these were tweaks to the old model of the company as a machine with a fixed hierarchy of management levels to which they applied. It went on like this: big bosses appointed little bosses, and so on. While large and effective, the organization continued to operate as a massive warship, making it difficult to manoeuvre.
Instead of a massive warship, an organization becomes a swarm of nimble speedboats when it fully commits to Agile. Instead of a static system, the company functions as a dynamic web of high-performing groups. Managers in these companies understand that competence and innovation may emerge from anywhere in the organization. The entire company, from the top to the bottom, is focused on providing additional value to customers. Agile teams are self-starters who collaborate to solve challenges. To put it another way, all employees have been trained to think of their organization as a network of high-performance teams.
Agile Organizations Are Hierarchical!
There is a misconception that Agile organizations are always flat or non-hierarchical. However, in Agile organizations, it is still the responsibility of the senior management to determine a course for the company. It’s still possible to be fired if you don’t do your job. When compared to a bureaucracy, an Agile organization is even more driven to achieve greater levels of efficiency and effectiveness. Poor performers can readily hide in the nooks and crannies of bureaucracy. Peer-to-peer accountability is enabled in the Agile organization by radical transparency.
The structure of an Agile organization, on the other hand, differs significantly from that of a bureaucratic one. In this case, it’s not a hierarchy of authority, but a hierarchy of competence. Rather than focusing on whether you have pleased your superiors, focus on whether you have provided value to your customers when evaluating your performance. Interaction between the organization’s various levels takes place in both horizontal and vertical directions. Everyone has access to each other. Customers, as well as anyone else, can be a source of inspiration. Organizations that work together as a network are always changing and evolving to take advantage of new opportunities and provide more value to their consumers. Customers like when a company can consistently give more value with fewer resources, and this results in a healthy profit margin for the provider.
As a result, the line between exploitation and exploration is blurred in the world of agile. Every department in the company is constantly looking for new ways to improve the value it provides to customers.
In the early days of Agile, some argued that tiny teams couldn’t manage large, difficult issues because of their small size. Small teams can solve difficult challenges with the same agility as large teams—and much better than a bureaucracy—once they are housed in a network driven by horizontal discussions focusing on a common purpose and operating in a single cadence.
A New Approach to Leadership
Using these three principles, Spotify and Barclays have been able to provide personalized music playlists to over a hundred million users every week, and Barclays has started to become an Agile bank that can provide easy, quick, convenient, and personalized services to customers.
Three laws-the Law of the Small Team, a law for customers, and a law for networks—work together to create a new way of thinking about the world and how to get things done in a company. Contradictions abound for the traditional manager when he or she first encounters Agile. As a result, managers are unable to direct their staff on what to do. By not focusing on making money, companies make more money. Taking on large challenges necessitates the creation of small teams. Letting go of the reins of power improves one’s sense of control. Leadership is more like that of a curator or a gardener than of a magnificent conquering warrior.
There is a sense of being in a foreign country when traditional managers enter an Agile organization where these apparent paradoxes are the norm: no one pays to set prices and laughing may represent rage. There aren’t any indications from home that make it easier for visitors to get around. In their stead, strange and confusing cues have taken their place. Inability to deal with a situation can be the result. Tourists will inevitably become confused and unprepared for their new surroundings if they do not absorb what has occurred and learn the new cues of the new country.
That’s why it’s impossible to deploy Agile in the context of present practices. Assumptions that are fundamentally different must be embraced to be agile. Traditional managers typically find it difficult to adapt to the new way of doing things. It’s not an easy task. There is an immediate sense of dissonance. It’s a lot like learning a foreign language from scratch. It takes time and practice to make Agile a natural part of one’s daily routine. Here, we’re not talking about “Agile.” “Being Agile” is the key concept here.
In the end, Agile is about adopting a new way of thinking. There was a noticeable emphasis on the Agile mentality during site visits by the Learning Consortium. It didn’t matter what tools, procedures, or practices they were utilizing, if the individuals in the organization had the Agile attitude, everything worked out OK. As a result, no matter how meticulously they implemented every tool, process, and practice, if they didn’t have an Agile mentality, none of it mattered. The key to being agile is having a growth attitude.
The Agile Three Laws
Three laws govern the Agile movement: one is a small team law, two is a law of the customer, and the third is a network law. In tandem, they form the foundation of an Agile organization. It is only via the application of these three rules that we can make sense of the plethora of Agile techniques that exist. The Agile way of thinking, which is based on the three laws of Agile, does not go out of style. They’re a reliable resource for learning how to become an Agile organization.
While there are many ways to implement Agile principles in a business setting, it’s generally accepted that small teams and short iteration cycles are optimal for delivering high-quality products.
Most essential of all, because it explains the other two laws and provides the most insight into how an Agile organization functions, is Law 2: A firm’s sole mission is to offer value to its customers. It is here that Agile organizations find their greatest success.
The third premise of Agile, however, is the actual lynchpin: