We are getting Agile wrong! | 13XAgile


What a wonderful word. I don’t think there is any other word in the dictionary that is so wonderfully misunderstood, misused, misinterpreted. But that is the beauty of “Agile”, that was the way it was meant to be.

The manifesto and principles are so simple, so common sense, so concise in its content. But when it comes to actual implementation, it is hard, elaborate and difficult to imbibe and roll-out. So no wonder we are getting it wrong. We can be forgiven for that, or mostly continue to pay the price with customers, employees and shareholders.

The Agile Generation

In 2001, Agile was launched as a Software development framework. In early literature, the experts who put together the Framework often cited it as a Project Management method. I don’t think they had the grand plans on where it would be today when they did put it together.

Agile has now been around for a good solid 16 years. Scrum which preceded the Agile Manifesto has now been around for 22 years. They say 26 years is a generation, Scrum has now been around a generation. I could proudly say that I lived into two major SDLC generations — Waterfall and Scrum (used interchangeably for Agile). This is a generational change.

Just like my kids take several things for granted — the internet for one, mobile phones, Netflix, Facebook, Snapchat — the new generation of workers coming out from various schools and joining organizations are growing up with Agility. They do not know the old world, they don’t want to know or miss knowing the past. And for those who do, it boggles their mind, why the heck would we build software this way?

“Learning to Learn”, the learning organization

Now, Agile is no longer the Software development framework. The world has moved from software, a tool in organizations, to software as an enabler. Software has become the mindware and DNA of organizations — you either get it or you don’t. Therefore, Agility has grown from a lowly software development context to a whole organizational context, you are therefore either Agile or not.

If you are still arguing whether you need to be Agile, this is not for you. Vamoose! You are already a creature living in the past. The previous generation. To be or not to be Agile, that is no longer the question. But, in the organizational context, Agile is just a means to an end, the answer to your existence, what the organization wants to be, and the required right response to its employees, customers, the market, and its shareholders (in that order IMO). In my simple definition, Agile is only simply one thing — “Learning to Learn”

“Do we know what we are doing today is right?”

So, if I say we are getting it wrong, then what is right? That is a very interesting question. There is no specific right. However, before you go off and say, “Oh, I was expecting some canned answers, nothing here really”, the right question to ask is not to ask “What is right?” but to ask “Do we know what we are doing today is right?” and that question asked everyday will help you find the answers continuously over a period of time. And that period of time, is a journey with nary an end in sight.

13X Agile — definition and construct

I do not know want to end this article with such abstraction, no meat, no answers and leave with you with only the questions. To assist you in the journey, I have for you 13X Agile. 13X Agile is a hypothetical end state for an ultimate organization, where it is the best place to work for its employees, super-delighted customers, darling of the stock market for shareholders and the bane of its competitors.

It is a defined set of characteristics that include objectives, outcomes, accountabilities and behaviours of such an organization. It is a very simple method which measures such behaviours and over the coming weeks, I shall articulate it for you and continue to evolve and elaborate it over time.

The construct is simple:

  • Organizations have a desire to be Agile, nimble and adaptive.
  • For that to happen Organizations need to culturally transform
  • Cultural changes are driven by structural changes — bottom-up change (painful, time-consuming, high chance of failure) and combined bottom-up and top-down change (shorter pain, lesser time, better chance of success)
  • Culture cannot be changed, by itself — it is a by-product of behaviours in teams, team of teams (T2), team of team of teams (T3), other employee eco-systems and management
  • To reach target culture, we need to reach target behaviours — targeted behaviours are tied to target objectives, so we first define the Objectives and Outcomes required for the organizations, its stakeholders, its teams (T1) (and team of teams (T2), and team of team of teams (T3))
  • To measure behaviours tied to achieve these objectives and outcomes, you now need a clear set of accountabilities for the organizations and its teams (T1, T2,T3…)
  • Each role in the organization (T1, T2, T3, Management, etc) has specific accountabilities, if there is no clear accountability, you cannot expect clear associated behaviours.
  • Once accountabilities are established, these are he baseline for the learnings that would establish the required behaviours as a continuous journey
  • Behaviours cannot be force-changed, they can only be evolved by individual learnings, which will establish them. Learning cannot be forced, it has to be continuously reinforced.
  • You continuously measure the behaviours exhibited by the system (organization, T1, T2, T3, etc) and this active feedback loop tells you what learning you need to continue establish in your system.

In summary, Learning changes behaviours, behaviours need accountability, Accountability needs Objectives/Outcomes, Objectives/Outcomes require Structural changes and collectively these establish a cultural change.

Originally published at 13xagile.wordpress.com on January 13, 2017.