Does Agile Transform a Business?

hand switching a switch from traditional to agile

We'll talk about the above, rarely asked question in a minute. But first, let us talk about your day so far, perhaps it's gone something like this;

After your commute to work, you've arrived at the office, opened your laptop, and then sat back gazing out the window dreaming of the upcoming weekend.

Let's analyze that seemingly mundane and normal situation...

In the early nineteenth century within the industrial north of Britain, a voluntary arrangement between factory owners and workers came to be, allowing Saturday afternoon off from 2 pm in agreement that staff would be available for work sober and refreshed on Monday morning. Thus, the weekend was born.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of the term weekend to 1879.

So now, we get to dream of weekends.

As for your drive to work, well, in England 100 years ago there were no speed limits on the motorways. This may lead you to think this could have been rather exhilarating, but unfortunately, there were no motorways either. Additionally, the British-made Austin Twenty of this time period only had 15 horsepower so it wouldn't have been a particularly fast drive down that fantasy motorway.

Nowadays we do get to drive to work, often on motorways.

Now onto the laptop computer, and its most essential lifeblood, the internet. Well, of course, they are comparatively brand new in comparison to the concepts of weekends and motorways. Honestly, though, can you imagine a world without these technologies? Many of us have lived lives without them and cannot imagine life without them now.

Why has this blog taken you on this silly time-traveling journey? Simply put, often people within businesses struggle with the idea of a transformation without realizing all they have ever known is change. As the above facts show, transforming is all you and I have ever done. Whether it's child to adult, single to relationship, or young to old. Things have never stayed the same. So, this means that transformation will happen whether intentional or not, it's the nature of the world that we live in.

So an Agile transformation is an organized transformation that exists within a constantly changing and evolving world. Ok, now that we have an understanding of the context, let us consider the idea of an Agile transformation.

Agile is a set of values and principles, usually aligned to a delivery framework such as scrum. Agile is not specifically a way of changing companies. Could I ask you to re-read the last sentence?

This is a very common misunderstanding that is unfortunately as common as the misconception that scrum and Agile are the same things - hmmm, the topic for another blog right there. The Agile set of values and principles is a way of being, a way of guiding our interactions and behaviors with our colleagues. They can also be used to guide a transformation but they will not cause the transformation alone. Transformation requires investment and intent. Quite simply, you must first know where you are (not as easy as it sounds) and why you want to change - "I want us to be Agile because it's faster", is not sufficient. Only then can we start to discuss how we get there and start to build a plan.

So, a long answer turned short; no, Agile does not transform organizations, people do. People are led by Agile values and principles sure, but Agile alone does not deliver it.

Countless organizations that 'go Agile' still demand project teams to hit dates rather than focus on customer value and so end up missing dates and...well, then they end up missing their customers too. Countless more carry on managing; dictating to project teams what they should do and how they should do it, rather than realizing the obvious truth that the people closest to the issue have the best context and that the manager's role is to build the environment that the team needs to be successful. In other words, not to control but to seek to empower others.

This example of fundamental mindset shifts is critical and cannot be avoided. They are the things that provide the transformation. An intentional transformation from one state to another is a large grouping of mindset shifts. This is a separate effort from product delivery projects and so will require a distinct investment in a business transformation team, training, and coaching. It is an additional and separate investment from the current existing work. I hope that is clear...any change, any sought-after new ability or skill requires investment - time and money.

So, why are companies seeking this transformation? Probably because they are waking up and seeing a new world around them. The world is not going at the speed it once did. Sounds silly, I know, but consider some of these points;

  • The great continents of Asia and Africa have joined the competitive marketplace - the number of competing companies in the world is vastly greater and so fewer companies will survive this competition.
  • The population has grown massively - the global population has doubled since 1970. These people are all independent, demanding consumers. They expect choice and they want things their way.
  • Companies have product creation and delivery marked in days not months. In case you're missing my point, I should say, I'm not talking about software in this example.
  • Technology innovation is not at a steady growth rate, it is at an exponential rate.

All of these things mean that managing human beings like they are cattle and thinking that they need to be told how and when they need to do things is yesterday's news. Please go watch David Marquet's Greatness video - I'm not telling you where to find it as you don't need me to manage you, right?

So, what transforms a business? Mindset shifts, changing our personal approach to the world around us, that will give you what you're looking for. It sh

As a species, we're going to embrace an Agile way of working, yes, but we need to make a decided investment in improving our mindsets and our approach. That is the way to transform our organizations. 

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