The philosophy that investing in capability to respond effectively to change is an effective strategy in a world of ever-accelerating change.
What is it?
The Agile philosophy is grounded in a manifesto that outlines four pillars, outlining a spectrum of emphasis, A over B, where A has greater value than B. e.g. individuals and interactions over processes and tools. This manifesto is further underpinned by twelve principles, reflecting origins as a software delivery approach.
Agility is not an ‘on/off’ switch – rather, it is spectrum on which groups must consciously and continually place themselves and adjust via continuous improvement.
Why is it important?
It is an empirical response to complexity rather than complication. We live in a world where emergent problems are complex rather than simply complicated; resulting in diminishing returns from the paradigm of scientific management.
- Complication is a system that may consist of mind-bobbling numbers of parts, but will break down upon analysis into predictable, repeatable analysis to ensure that input x equals output y. This includes everything from folding a paper plane to an automobile assembly line to the construction of the Pyramids. This class of problem yields to analysis, deconstruction into constituent parts and engineering for efficiency.
- Complexity is the class of systems where input x does not predictably result in y. This includes systems that are ultra-sensitive to initial conditions – the proverbial butterfly effect – systems that are loosely, periodically, and/or probabilistically connected; emergent behaviour. Examples include weather forecasts, social media virality, epidemiology.
Agility is the most popular of the new management paradigms designed to tackle complexity.
Where did it come from?
Agile is a synthesis of various technical delivery approaches with roots in organisational theory, lean thinking, human motivation, systems thinking and many of its current practices leverage the old in new contexts. Salient concepts include ‘minimum viable product‘, ‘retrospectives‘, ‘standups‘ and ‘product ownership‘. Related fields and concepts includeDevOps, Self-X*, Flow, Motivation 3.0, systems thinking, antifragility, design thinking, lean startup and more.
Who else is doing it?
As agility is a philosophy rather than a delivery framework (e.g. scrum), many organisations find value in its emphasis. Complexity and accelerating changes affects companies big and small, commercial and not-for-profit, cutting across industries and sectors with centuries of heritage to startups that launched yesterday. Here’s a sample set of organisations that are good case studies: Netflix, Coca Cola, General Electric, Zappos, Valve, The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, MySpace.
I want something more practical than a philosophy!
Two of the most popular implementations of the philosophy are Scrum and Kanban. We recommend that enacting one of these two in their standard forms will serve most organisations greatly in beginning their agile journey. It is important to note that all of these fall on a spectrum of philosophical versus prescriptive. An organisation should continuously adjust itself on this spectrum to best match its needs. Increasing prescription from a more philosophical position is the preferred approach for agile coaches, as additive kaizen is often simpler than subtraction via lean engineering.
What do I do next?
Start by trying it out. Run a retrospective in the first week and ascertain the biggest impediment to remove and improve. Do it again.
If this is product development type work, try Scrum. If the work is less ‘boxable’, the teams non-static even in the medium term, and/or the change horizon is too short even for a weekly sprint, try Kanban. Kanban suits marketing, sales, operations, maintenance, management work.
I want help
Say email@example.com. Typical support avenues include:
- Scrum Masters, who are people with a deep knowledge of Scrum and high emotional quotient, to serve your teams.
- Agile Coaches, guides on the pathway to emphasising greater agility in your organisation
- Certification – mostly certifies that a given person has read the Scrum Guide thoroughly; a very low bar for capability in running successful scrum and no substitute for learning tacit know how via incremental approximation.