Beyond Agile: Why Agile Hasn’t Fixed Your Problems

Jurriaan Kamer
Oct 30, 2017 · 7 min read
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Top-down agile doesn’t work, it simply creates a new command-and-control structure

The agile manifesto and its 12 principles provide a lot of wisdom of how to effectively create value in organizations. The manifesto tells us to ‘build projects around motivated individuals … self-organizing teams … and trust them to get the job done’. However many organizations and leaders end up adopting agile frameworks with the same plan-and-predict mindset they’ve always had.

“I tried to be innovative once, but I got stuck in meetings.” — source unknown

We can’t deal with the increasing world of complexity and unpredictability by doing more controlling, planning and prediction — even if we’re “doing agile.” We have to let go of our linear, reductionist mindset and instead aim for self-management enabled by servant leadership. The leader’s new job is to work on the system, creating a healthy environment in which people can grow and results can happen.

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Comic by geek & poke

Agile is not a fixed end-state, it’s a way of being

The agile manifesto told us to value ‘individual and interactions’ over ‘processes and tools’. And yet, agile has become a jungle of tooling vendors and consulting companies selling frameworks that are implemented as a static blueprint.

Agile doesn’t fix your problems, it shines a light on them

Agile shines a light on the real problems of the organization but doesn’t necessarily offer a way to fix them. Agile is designed to make teams faster. This additional speed will put more pressure on the system, revealing the leaky pipes which then need to be fixed.

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Agile lacks the language to go beyond IT

Agile’s aim was to “uncover better ways of developing software”, and it did. Nowadays, it is successfully applied to other disciplines and other places where people work in teams to achieve a goal together. But because of its origins, it continues to be seen as the latest tool that we can use to execute IT projects successfully. The manifesto and its practices lack the language to get what we desperately need: a mindset shift in the way we organize work in the 21st century.

So as a leader, when I feel ‘yes this is true for me’, what should I do?

Do small experiments and learn how change happens in your organization. Learn what your people need. Point your agile toolkit at the organization itself. Don’t stay stuck in dogmatic agile practices. Let them bend and flex in order to serve you better. Start asking your teams what is holding them back from doing the best work of their lives. Ask them for suggestions to change the organization.

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The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works.

Jurriaan Kamer

Written by

Org design & transformation | Author of ‘Formula X’ | Speaker | Future of Work. Partner at The Ready

The Ready

The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works. Topics include org design, self-organization, and dynamic teaming.

Jurriaan Kamer

Written by

Org design & transformation | Author of ‘Formula X’ | Speaker | Future of Work. Partner at The Ready

The Ready

The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works. Topics include org design, self-organization, and dynamic teaming.

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