A spectre is haunting the business world – the spectre of agility.Inspired by the opening sentence of Karl Marx – “The Communist Manifesto”
Warning: The following text might include sarcasm.
Agile offers a multitude of frameworks, which are showing the business world on how to start with your agile transformation. And for many organizations, the outlook seems easy: You just need to see, that you get certified in one or more of those frameworks. This will give you all the fundamentals you need to introduce agile into your company. Those frameworks appear to be the silver bullet to all the problems within your organization.
If you check the videos, diagrams or website, it all looks so easy. LESS, SAFe or the “Spotify model” give you the answers and guidance – just follow the rules & steps of the framework, and you will be fine. This is, how you can end up into an agile organization. Do the framework and you will be Agile!
But on a serious note: The ghost of agility is not a werewolf. And silver bullets only work for werewolves. Consultants or coaches, who have experienced different steps of Agile transformations will be able to guide you to that insight. This is pretty visible in some material you might have seen: Even the creators of the “Spotify model” explain in their video, that is not a fixed system, but a dynamic one, which constantly evolves:
This culture description is more like a mix of what we are and what we want to become.Henrik Knieberg in the video “Spotify Engineering Culture“
Unfortunately, people on the hunt for the silver bullet and who want to “do Spotify” overhear that statement. They plan and then create guilds & chapters. Then they do everything to achieve that planned state. In some cases a PMO (nowadays: Center of Agile excellence) ensures, that the destination is kept as the focal point.
It does not matter, if you want to achieve SAFe, LESS, Spotify or anything else. In most cases, when talking to organizations, it appears, that they use that respective model to the goal of how the organization should look like.
There is nothing wrong with following a framework. There is nothing bad about LESS, SAFe, Scrum@Scale or any current form of Spotify – if we understand, why those Frameworks exist. Frameworks are great to get inspired by; their rules & guidelines are a starting point. But I would never see them as a recipe to follow through for the own organization. There are a lot of good thoughts behind those frameworks. And they are rightfully so famous. But an organization, which does not evolve into another step beyond that organization might be a doomed organization.
Every organization is first of all a construct of human interaction. Each and every organization works different. What worked exactly like that in one organization, will not work at all in another context. That might be even one of the root causes, why you rarely see top CEOs being successful in more than one organization (excluding entrepreneurs).
My current problem with Agile is (hence I say Agile is dead), that far more often than not, organizations use it as their destination: We need to be an Agile organization. I believe, that is against the spirit of the Agile Manifesto. Therefore, they use Agile Release Train as one of their most important KPI to measure their agility. Very often there is no deeper understanding, why the Release Train might be needed. Too often: CTOs are thinking now about squads, chapters & tribes to satisfy their wet dream of an agile organizational design.
When it comes to organizational design, we unfortunately follow less steps to verify it’s appliance to our organization, than in our procurement process for new laptops. The margin of error is so much higher, though!
I have seen organizations, which tried to improve alignment and more communication across different teams, but by implementing a certain framework, it led to less alignment and more silos. So, they pivoted to another framework. Now, they have a heavy organization with different managers/leaders who are so busy with their daily activities, that they can’t schedule time for their 1-1s with their direct reports. A very unfortunate situation for the respective direct reports.
Again: My stance is not to talk down on certifications or frameworks. All of them are absolute valid and fill in for a need for different industries and businesses in certain contexts. Certainly, use them, get inspired by them and start with them. But then add your flavor to them. Grow your culture into what is needed. Do not just follow recipes.
When I was asked several years ago, how one might know, that they fail at Agile, I simply answered: “If you think, you are good!”
Agile is a toolset which should help you on your journey. The goal of your organization should never “be Agile” (or fast); the goal is still the value you want to deliver to your clients. Use the Agile Manifesto with it’s values and the principles not as where you should be, but as answers on the way to where you need to be. Agile does not give you the answers, but it might be able to open up your doors to the answers.
So, is Agile dead? Is it merely a spectre haunting around in the business world? Is it merely a tool allowing to give you new forms of performance indicators? Do we just swap names (teams to squads) and titles (Project Managers to Scrum Masters) and suddenly, we think, we need to be Agile?
Or do we believe in the underlying questions: How can we make sense of an increasing complex environment? How can we grow an organization in a way, that we can still make sense of all that what we cannot predict anymore?
Companies, who are claiming to be Agile are probably not Agile organizations. The companies, who are really Agile, do not answer questions towards agility. They are looking for answers to make sense of their context.
When Facebook is testing different news feeds in different countries, they are not asking themselves constantly if they value working software over comprehensive documentation. It is just how they learn fast from their customers. It is simply, how they make sense in delivering the value to their customers based on their mission.
So, the point I am making is: Do not talk about becoming Agile. Find a way to make sense for your organization in the context of your environment. The Agile Manifesto and the mindset lying behind it might help you find the right answer to those questions. The frameworks will help you find a starting point. But you are neither Spotify, nor Facebook, nor Google. You have an own organization with your product or service within an own context, which rightfully exists! Make sense of that, and then you might be successful. Who will actually care, if someone might label you as an Agile organization or not? Only then Agile is not dead!
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