Why most companies don’t need ‘Agile’
Ask a CEO whether she wants her company to be more agile, and the answer you get will invariably be “Yes”. But we might be asking the wrong question.
For many this question is like saying “do you want your company to be leaner, more competitive, more profitable?” Of course, you do!
Nothing controversial so far…
But what if the question was reframed as: “Would you like to completely change the way your business operates, with a new operating model based on a software development process?”
At this point, the reactions would probably range from quizzical to confused. “Why would I want to take a process designed for developing software, and use that to run my business?” And unless she actually is running a software company, I think the CEO would be right to ask the question.
The problem is that this is exactly what a lot of well-intentioned companies are doing right now: taking a software development methodology known as Scrum, and trying to force the company’s operations into that model.
The root cause of this problem is that the word Agile has become synonymous with Scrum. Indeed, the 11th Annual 2017 State of Agile report* states that
“Scrum and Scrum/XP Hybrid (at 68%) continue to be the most common agile methodologies used by respondents’ organizations.”
So when the question “Do you want to go Agile?” is asked, a positive answer almost invariably becomes (intentionally or unintentionally) “let’s roll out Scrum across the organisation”.
To be clear: this is not a criticism of Scrum. Scrum has been applied successfully in many organisations around the world to develop great software products and services.
My question is: are people really getting what they think are getting when they hop on the “Let’s Go Agile” bandwagon?
Being agile means:
- being responsive to the market
- being able to adapt to new opportunities and changing circumstances; and
- continuously improving the way we create products and services to delight our customers
Stand Ups, Sprints, Showcases and Kanban Walls are all useful tools when used effectively, but they are not, in and of themselves, agile. I have seen plenty of organisations where these practices have been used without any agility to be seen at all, and I have also witnessed highly-effective teams that used none of these tools.
True agility requires that the organisation embrace an Agile Mindset. The Agile Mindset requires that we ask these questions:
- What value do our customers get from our product or service?
- What impediments stand in the way of us delivering that value?
- How can we quickly respond to changes in customer preferences?
- How can we remove waste in the process?
- How can we build things “right first time”?
and then, and only then, ask ourselves:
- How should we change the way we organise our work and our teams?
The answers to these questions can help us design a unique operating model that is responsive to the market, can adapt quickly to new opportunities and changing circumstances, and results in products and services that delight their customers.
Yes, one can then choose to include Stand Ups, Showcases and other practices made popular by Agile/Scrum, but we should only make this choice once we know what we are trying to achieve. One wouldn’t choose the tools and materials to build a house before understanding what the end product should look like. In a similar vein, organisation design and the target operating model should come first – only then should we choose the tools and practices that can help us implement the model.
The journey to being a truly agile organisation is more challenging than simply applying an off-the-shelf methodology, but when done with the right mindset and approach, the rewards can be extraordinary.
* 11th Annual 2017 State of Agile, VersionOne.com