This is not a plea for adopting Agile, nor is it an opinionated tale of how misused and misconstrued Agile has become. And I’m not saying executive management deliberately ignores Agile initiatives in their organizations. However, I do believe that a problem stems from the fact that Agile firms have taken advantage of the Agile trend by creating products to be sold, such as frameworks, processes, and tools. Their target audience: IT development departments.
The timeline of an Agile initiative implementation often goes somewhat like this:
- Executives hear out the IT departments on the benefits of adopting Agility from an IT perspective. All in all Agile practices and methods make a lot of sense; it is easy to promote the benefits of Agility.
- The budget is then approved for the Agile initiative to be implemented in the IT department.
The result: Organizations spend millions of dollars in failing Agile transformations. Did you know that, according to “The State of Agile” survey by VersionOne, “Lack of management support” is in the top three reasons why Agile initiatives fail? I believe the word “support” could as well be replaced with “engagement”.
So, the question from the perspective of executives (e.g., president, CEO, CIO, and CTO) becomes extremely relevant: “What’s in it for me or my organization as a whole?” Why else would they engage?
Agile has become the buzz word of the corporate world these days, especially when it comes to software development. However, its influence has since extended much further than the IT world, reaching the fathoms of various domains such as R&D, marketing, and even HR. The values and principles are what allow Agility to span a wide spectrum of activities beyond software development.
However Agile is not a new concept. In fact, E.W. Deming came up with “Seven Deadly Diseases” and fourteen key principles for organizations. The Agile manifesto relates closely to what Deming himself proposed almost 60 years ago. Like Deming, Agile proposes more human consideration, quality, collaboration, and response to change.
Why come up with values and principles instead of a defined process? The signatories of the Agile Manifesto and Deming realized that while processes and tools may be easier to apply and understand they also recognized they do have a limited application scope and a limited lifetime. Values and principles, on the other hand, tend to be boundless and timeless; making them ideal for a complex fast-paced changing world that reflects today’s global context. By using values and principles, organizations have the freedom and responsibility to define the structures and ways of working that reflects their beliefs, their culture, and mostly their purpose. Companies that have honed in on these values while engineering their structures and ways of working have had a considerable level of success. Toyota and Spotify are great examples of such organizations. A common attribute essential for the success attributed to these organizations: Organizational leaders were fully engaged in supporting their transformation. What does this concretely entail?
Your organization relies on people to provide its products or services. Sounds obvious, right? You’ll probably be surprised to know that, despite the obviousness of this statement, less than 35% of employees relate to their organization’s purpose. Here are the main reasons:
a) Lack of support from executive management
b) Actions and decisions not supporting the purpose
c) Organization without a purpose.
Alignment is created when a company structures itself around a purpose and a vision. People are motivated by the purpose, and it allows them to identify with the organization and what it is trying to accomplish. Sirota Consulting reported that “Companies with ‘high morale’ saw their stock prices increase by more than five times the amount of those of the half-dozen companies with ‘low morale’.”
Concentrate on creating opportunities that are aligned with the purpose and supported by the values and principles. You can dictate ways of working that are aligned with your organization’s purpose or you can encourage your employees to come up with ways of working that motivates them. You can then support them by removing any impediments, such as processes and tools that create unwanted roadblocks.
Agile value—Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
This value proposes supporting actions that produce direct value. For example, take a glass full of water in your hand. You can see it, feel it, consume it, move it, etc., unlike a report that indicates the glass is 85% full of water. As an Agile consultant firm, we suggested a client’s IT department to hone in on this principle by inviting the business folks (e.g., from president to sales reps) to its monthly one-hour demo. During this meeting, the Product Owner presented the working software increment that had been produced by the team in the one-month iteration. Following the implementation of the demo meeting, people reported increased sense of pride, increased recognition, increased understanding of actual progress, and increased trust (mainly due to the fact that progress is clear and not interpreted). Plus, each month, they saved countless hours usually required to produce reports and attend meetings. The presence of the executive management team makes this initiative extremely valuable.
Agile value—Working software over comprehensive documentation
Situational servant leadership
There is a plethora of courses, books, workshops, stories, and movies on leadership. You’ll hear of all types of leaders and the way they succeeded. The types of leaders span a wide range of differing perspectives from seemingly egocentric (e.g., Donald Trump) all the way to cosmoscentric (e.g., the Dalai Lama). Leadership is more effective if it serves the wide spectrum of people that work for your organization. Situational servant leadership means adapting your actions and words to support the people working for the organization. People work for organizations, and they follow leaders … not the other way around. Consider your client relationships to be the same. They bring as much value to your organization as do your employees. Using situational servant leadership to collaborate with your clients results in them being productive and loyal to you. Plus, they are much more willing to provide valuable constructive feedback to your organization, which help with continuous improvement. Having collaborative clients in the production process will also ensure what is being asked for is actually being produced. You may want to experience having your clients on site from time to time to qualify their products.
Agile value—Client collaboration over contract negotiation
This value allows organizations to regularly inspect and adapt their way of doing things. Manufacturing, production, and process-oriented organizations, which make up a good majority of the corporate world, often have a continuous improvement process. This is a much more challenging concept for organizations in domains such as banking and investments as well as for notaries and law firms. This is because standards, rules, and regulations are constraining factors on continuous improvement. A factor to strongly consider is that the ROI of continuous improvement is not easily assessed. Items that don’t make their way up to the board meetings often get overlooked. To support continuous improvement, you may want to start by implementing an executive management’s routine. Introduce the continuous improvement principle and practice within the boardroom once a month, and invite the attendees to do the same within their respective teams. The initiatives will then easily trickle down, because people follow leaders… Remember the suggestion to invite clients into your organization from time to time. You can greatly benefit from their presence during continuous improvement sessions, as new perspectives open up new possibilities.
Agile value—Responding to change over following a plan