Why Agile?

Some people call it an approach or a method.

Whatever you call it, it is about people and results.

The Situation

If we take a look into today’s knowledge and service organisations we see, feel and hear frustration. This is typical of command-and-control hierarchical organisations, where the thinkers are at the top and do-ers at the bottom. Where central targets and plans are made and distributed for others to execute.

This results in a spiral of demotivation and poor teamwork which all leads to a greater sense of fear and “gaming of the system” which all paralyses the organisation, demotivating even more.

The Idea…(and normally the result of working Agile)

If only we could…

move away from command-and-control. Stop telling people what to do and how to do it but rather give the client-facing people and teams that are doing the work more autonomy to approach problems and plan solutions as they see best, simply because they are closest to the client.

Encourage people to get continuously better. Often there is too much to do. People believe that they cannot afford the time to improve and they lose their sense of mastery. We need to allow people to become masters of their work, to become really good at what they do because it matters to them.

Encourage people to delight their clients. People often do not know why their work is truly important to those who will benefit from it: In other words they have no sense of purpose in that they want to know that their work is important and valuable.

The Journey

Well, we can. In 2001 a small group of IT professionals working independently throughout the globe discovered that they had adopted a way of working whereby the teams had autonomy, people had a sense of mastery and they had purpose. It was this small group of thinkers that crowned the term “Agile”.

But not only did this Agile way of working help with autonomy, mastery and purpose but it also encouraged something else.

With the world moving faster and faster and opportunities coming and going, organisations, teams and people need to react to change not just rapidly but also positively. So rather than resist change, Agile approaches encourage the opposite: They embrace change.

How is this Done?

Agile ways-of-working require organisations to:

  • regularly re-evaluate the most important thing to do next, with rolling plans.
  • work in tight, self-organising teams that communicate openly and interactively
  • deliver value frequently
  • habitually review how they work to constantly improve themselves
  • ultimately focus on the client’s needs

Products & Projects and Daily Operations

Yet, there are two fundamental ways for knowledge workers to work in an Agile way, depending on the nature of the work being undertaken:

  1. Activities that change part of an organisation for the better, produce a new product or need to deliver on a certain day. E.g. a New IT system, a new offering or a conference. The principle is to always deliver on time, not necessarily one that is perfect but certainly one that is fit-for-purpose.
  2. To execute the daily operations of a business. E.g. Processing CVs in a recruitment process, producing press announcements & newsletters or dealing with IT support desk requests. The goal here is to improve the overall throughput by removing obstacles thus proactively making the process leaner.

The Management

Both approaches require management to support the change. Management must lead people, not manage them. They do this by:

  • coaching people to resolve their own problems
  • Reacting quickly to escalations that are outside of the team’s authority.
  • Setting clear constraints in which the “problem” is to be solved
  • Standing back and letting the team work
  • Improving everything including information transparency

If the management team can “let go” then they will become leaders and they will have more quality time leading their organisation into new areas of growth, with little red tape and less “gaming” of the system. All of which will highly likely lead to new opportunities and even greater success that is only possible when organisations fulfil their client’s unrecognised desires.

And that is about Results. Delivered by People.