Do you understand what agile means?


Agile, oh agile, what art thou.

For those that understand the values and principles and can apply them begin to understand that agile is about attitude and mindset. Seeing change as a positive thing for individuals, our teams, our companies and the wider world around us.

For some, agile is simply another project management tool, for some its process transformation and for some it’s a way to change culture. Because it’s a set of values it will mean something different to everyone.

If you only change the way you manage projects then this might not be effective if the organisation strategy doesn’t allow reaction to industry, technology or consumer behavioural change, if you only change process but don’t recruit for mindset and values then culture might be impacted as teams might not collaborate and be driven to continuously improve and keep quality high and costs low. If you only do things aesthetically then you will have beanbags and pool tables but no autonomy, mastery or purpose for your talented team.

I recently joined one of the best known multi-channel and multi-national department stores and was lucky enough to be able to spend 3 months observing behaviour. Everything is driven out of behaviour good or bad. That is created by the things we make clear as measures of success.

“Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave” Eli Goldratt

In our case revenue, margin and cashflow. Teams work hard, long hours and try and keep morale high but without a clear vision, strategic objectives and company wide measures of success then the waves of more projects just keep coming.

Agile isn’t just project management and delivery related, to understand the values of agile and to a different extent the sentiment of servant leadership then you start to realise how detrimental a prescriptive and visionless set of Directors can be. With projects and timelines and costs strictly controlled from those above, with no way to prioritise work holistically and with measures of success unclear, where does the autonomy, mastery and purpose come from?

No longer can companies professing to be “going agile” and “focusing on digital” being “customer centric” and “mobile first” look to treat IT and the wider business as simply a code delivery machine. The whole purpose of cross functional, co-located, autonomous teams is to encourage a clear focus on solving customer problems and motivation through delivery of goals.

Hitting budget and dates and scope is meaningless if the outcome isn’t met, or worse the outcome never really known.

“Let’s refresh the [input something here] part of the website….Why? We haven’t changed it for a while”.

I’ve heard statements like that alot over the years. I’m sure we are all trying our best and applying our knowledge as best we can but if this were our company and our money would we really be investing it in this way?

If we stick to agile and lean principles then these amazing people we have in our companies will deliver even greater results. What we as leaders need to understand is that to facilitate this we need to change, we need to be servant leaders not dictating project deliverables and timelines, we need to provide vision, inspiration, clear measures of success and most importantly our time and support.

Leaders sat in offices, door shut, making decisions is a thing of the past. Companies that persist with this behavior will drive the best talent away.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

Acknowledge many aspects of your organisation will be challenged when you ask teams to focus on agile and lean values and most importantly help to solve them.

I recently heard the statement that an aspect of our ways of working was “off the table”, really sad to hear as this particular thing was most certainly a blocker, persisting with such stubbornness will only mean the organisation fails in the long run.

So my real point is when, as a leader, you decide we are “going agile” make sure you are ready to truly support your amazing teams in evolving your business, it won’t just be about code and deployment. You will likely be discussing remuneration, recruitment, finance capitalisation policy, governance, risk management, accounting, contracts, supplier management, software licenses, budgets, PMO, line management, training, coaching, mentoring, technology stacks, user centred design, C level roles and responsibilities, strategy, vision, leading measures…..and many more.

It’s all very healthy and all very expected. Remember change is the new constant. Evolve or die.

Stick close the the values and you won’t go far wrong.

The values of the Agile Manifesto
Individuals and interactions
Working product is the measure of success
Customer collaboration
Responding to change

Principles of lean



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