3rd Wave Agile

Something big is happening in agile.

First Wave Agile started long ago with a focus on working software. In fact, if you revisit the 2nd page of the Agile Manifesto, you’ll read:

“Working software is the primary measure of progress.”

It’s only been about 15 years or so, but organizations are finally figuring that part out. Much of the Extreme Programming brand has died but it lives on as the underpinning of good agile software development. If you fail to change your engineering practices, all of the stickies in the world aren’t going to help you.

Second Wave Agile has seen the introduction of a project management layer that hints at an ability of scaling beyond a single team. While not perfect, it pulls in aspects of portfolio management and begins to address agile beyond a single team.

However now I believe we’re entering what I’m calling 3rd Wave Agile.

Leaders are beginning to understand that they are only affecting the UX Level (user experience level) of their organizations with most of their agile adoptions.

This UX Level is a great start, as it begins to change the interactions and experience with employees. Teams can be seen doing daily stand ups, using sticky notes on the walls, having demos and retrospectives.

And yet by neglecting the OS Level of your organization, many of these efforts stall out not matter what project management and engineering practices you’ve adopted.

Underneath the UX Level resides the OS Level (operating system level) of your organization.

Some of these functions may have been around for decades without much change at all.

This is where practices like stack ranking employees for performance reviews make or break your ability to be agile. If you take a cross functional agile team and stack rank them, someone always ends up on bottom.

This is where annual planning and budgeting collide with your efforts to adapt and change your roadmap as you learn in the market.

This is where teams struggle with accountability because you are still holding them accountable to completing user stories and hitting a desired velocity.

Leaders are finally realizing that to make their organizations more agile, they’ll need to start addressing some of these OS Level functions to achieve organizational agility.

Years ago I didn’t see many leaders willing to even acknowledge, let alone think of changing, the OS Level of their organization.

Now I witness a willingness to expand the definition of cross functional expanding beyond just Engineering, Product and Design to HR, Finance, Marketing and others.

Now I see leaders willing to end stack ranking employees.

This is why I believe we are entering 3rd Wave Agile.

(and it’s rather exciting)


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