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Many organisations want to become agile. But there’s more to agile than methods.

How Might We Become Agile?

Many organisations have ‘discovered’ agile working practices. But they face big challenges. The advantages of agile are clear: faster processes, a more rewarding work culture and enhanced flexibility. But the question they face is how exactly they might become agile. Most organisations do not have a history of flexible work practices, unlike organisations like Spotify. Spotify has crafted its entire culture on agile thinking. The others need to go through a change process.

It will not work if the organisation is not ready to go all the way.

Organisations have developed (bad) habits over the years. It’s not with a stroke of a pen, or a flashy presentation that people will change their behaviors. And it’s not by implementing only the mechanics of agile that an organization becomes agile.
One can replace organizational structure with “squads”, “tribes” and “”chapters”. And one can introduce daily stand-up meetings and scrum-like habits. An organisation can introduce agile coaches to support the way of working. But still you are not sure that despite all these efforts, an agile culture will arise.
Every new organization is as bad as the previous one, unless all stakeholders show commitment to embrace a new way of working consistently and radically. It’s always about behaviour and intentions.

Autonomy & Trust

Agile will not work if the board and the executive committee do not endorse it and adopt themselves agile ways of working. Agile strategy n become the basis an organization crafts its future culture upon.
An agile way of working assumes autonomy. Autonomy can only exist if there is trust. Trust is a fragile but essential element of culture. Trust needs confirmation all the time. Therefore it’s better to introduce agile slowly, build experiences and go step by step. A Bing bang will hardly ever be the right approach.
Leaders who apply agile principles should try and find a balance. Between alignment and autonomy, between steering and supporting. Agile methods can be used for both sides of the balance. But leaders who use dailies only for control are undermining the agile culture in its essence.
Some elements of an agile culture are even counter-intuitive. People like to achieve things and work together. But at the same time people are also competitive and focused on personal survival. So one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that people adopt agile principles is to remove barriers for coöperation. Organisations should select people on their ability to work together and coach them.
When organizations change and move towards agility, they have to build and maintain trust at the same time. If they fail to do that, agile will be just another empty phrase that is pushed through the organisation.
Agile is (also) a matter of trust.

I will be speaking at the Agile Conference in Berlin on August 29th. Download the Agile Manifesto Infographic  or click on the picture below to go to the conference information.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

One Comment

  • I agree that Agile requires trust, but self-organization is another prerequisite (amongst others) for a successful Agile culture. When we talk about autonomy, it often scares senior management (away from embracing Agile.) There are team-level obligations for successful Agility (courage, transparency, collaboration, etc.) in addition to management obligations (coaching, training, supporting autonomy and self-organization, etc.), too. Getting all this right (let alone out on the table) is much more daunting task than many organizations are initially aware of (and more than adopting what worked elsewhere as you note.)
    Thank you for “calling out” those organizations who believe that they can adopt the Spotify model without the prerequisite planning and organizational change management. It’s unfortunate that Agile has become the latest silver bullet for solution delivery and organizational transformation. The Spotify story is a very positive one, but it’s only one data point and one specific to them.
    Thank you for sharing this Agile Manifesto Infographic, too. It’s ironic (for me, at least) when I meet leaders who claim that they’re “going Agile” who have never heard of The Agile Manifesto let alone adopted it and identified how to embrace it’s explicit and implicit implications before sending teams to training, hiring coaches, etc. It’s not an infrequent occurrence, so kudos for promoting The Manifesto so visibly, here.

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